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Opinion

James Trafford the new number one and Nick Pope as back up looks good to me

3 months ago
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Burnley. Rock bottom of the Premier League and if I’m proved right, will fall through the relegation trapdoor come next May.

That will be the second time in three seasons, with the Clarets also relegated in 2022. In fact it was Newcastle United who helped seal their fate, winning at Turf Moor by two goals to one on the final day of the season, whilst Leeds won at Brentford to beat the drop, a last day reprieve that they (Leeds) couldn’t repeat the following season..

Eddie Howe likes a bargain. And he likes English players. With Burnley set to be plying their trade in the Championship last season, he swooped for the Clarets keeper, Nick Pope who was allowed to leave in summer 2022 when Newcastle United offered them £10 million.

Clearly, Eddie saw Pope as his number one, our erstwhile first choice Martin Dubravka, spitting out his dummy and farmed out to Man Utd in a loan spell that was both baffling and infuriating, especially when the Slovakian couldn’t play in the League Cup Final after Pope’s red card against Liverpool in the run up to arguably our most important match in over twenty years.

In a comparison with Dubravka when the then 30 year Pope signed, it was clear that when it came to goals conceded and shot stopping, our signing from Burnley was superior, and all the while, playing for a team that was relegated. Perhaps more notably, the things Pope wasn’t better at, included passing accuracy, successful passes and errors leading to shots.

Last season, Nick Pope was awesome. Our defence was superb and he played an instrumental role in our Champions League qualification. Who could forget his outstanding save in the dying embers from Timothy Castagne, then of Leicester City, the night we qualified?

Having said all that, I am afraid our superb shot stopper is limited when it comes to his distribution. And much as I’ll defend him to the hilt, if we want to compete at the very, very top, we need a sweeper-keeper; someone that is as outstanding as Nick when it comes to stopping shots, but much better with the ball at their feet.

The answer? When Burnley inevitably go down, Eddie should swoop again and bring James Trafford up the M6, past the farm where he grew up and across the A69.

Trafford is still only 21, but has shown maturity and calmness beyond his tender age.

He started out as a midfielder at Carlisle United but volunteered to go in goal as a nine-year-old and the rest is history. He apparently impressed Pep Guardiola in a post-training penalty shootout in 2020, denying his manager from 12 yards and was part of the travelling Man City squad for the Champions League final the following year.

With Ederson and Ortega at the Etihad, it was always going to be tough for Trafford to break into the first team. He spent 18 months on loan at Bolton Wanderers before his move in the close season to Burnley (for an initial £15m which could rise as high as £19m). He helped the Trotters win the Papa Johns trophy and with an extremely impressive 22 clean sheets in League One, helped Bolton to the play offs, where they were denied over two legs by Barnsley.

James Trafford also starred for England’s Under 21s in the European Championships last summer, keeping six clean sheets from the group stage all the way to the emd of the tournament, calmly saving a 99th minute penalty against Spain in the final. That won him the MOTM award as England won the trophy for the first time in 39 years.

James Trafford is excellent with the ball at his feet and his ability on the ball will provide direct passes into our midfield, so the team can transition more quickly than it does under Pope’s pondering style.

Trippier lost his patience on Saturday with Pope, at one point hollering for the ball out wide, which when it eventually came, put our right back under unnecessary pressure. Pope also gave the ball away in a dangerous position and if Conor Gallagher hadn’t been so hapless, that could have cost us dear. I counted a number of errant passes as well.

Don’t get me wrong, being a keeper is one of the most challenging positions on the pitch. I should know. My son played there for almost a decade. It can be a thankless task, with every mistake brutally magnified in a way that just isn’t if you make an error in the middle of the park.

Let me clarify something. Nick Pope is not and has not become a bad keeper and I still have confidence in him for the rest of the season. Despite his shortcomings on Saturday, his save from Enzo Fernandez was top drawer. However, we need to progress and I don’t think we can if he remains between the sticks in the longer term.

Having wor Nick as back up to James Trafford next season seems like a good place to be. HTL.

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