THE question was early, the answer unequivocal and straight to the point.

“Let’s clear that up straight away,” said Stuart McCall. “Nobody is looking to offload him.”

In a summer free of much of the usual transfer conjecture, not surprisingly considering the bigger picture going on, James Vaughan has become the stand-out narrative.

The future of City’s 2019/2020 top scorer remains the hot topic among supporters – and no doubt the club staff and hierarchy.

On the face of it, Vaughan still has two of the three-year contract handed him last summer by Gary Bowyer to run.

Looking from the outside, keeping a potent striker who is still on the books seems a no-brainer.

But the waters were muddied by that half-season loan at Tranmere; playing in a higher division within a stone’s throw of his Formby base.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: James Vaughan has been linked with a return to Tranmere after last season's loan spellJames Vaughan has been linked with a return to Tranmere after last season's loan spell

It was an attractive proposition for Vaughan when it was becoming clear that he was at loggerheads with the previous manager. It was a bolthole that appeared to suit both parties at the end of the January transfer window.

But Tranmere’s relegation in controversial circumstances, based on points-per-game and ignoring their three-match winning run that preceded the COVID shutdown, threw a spanner in the works.

City were due a bonus as part of the loan agreement had they stayed up. It was also expected that Tranmere would push to make Vaughan’s move a permanent one – a switch that he would surely welcome.

But the world has changed significantly since March; none more so than in the grim financial picture facing teams lower down the divisions.

Vaughan, understood to be one of the highest earners on the Valley Parade books, will not go cheap – if at all.

Certainly, McCall got his retaliation in first when thrown the Vaughan question to open Monday night’s online fans forum at the club.

“For me, James Vaughan in League Two will give us goals and performances,” said the City boss.

“We want him at our football club. It doesn’t matter what finances he is on.

“At the moment he’s got another two years on his contract.

“There’s nobody trying to squeeze James Vaughan out of this football club. I want him to be here playing for us and hopefully that will be the case.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Gary Bowyer named James Vaughan as City's captain when he signed last summerGary Bowyer named James Vaughan as City's captain when he signed last summer

Hopefully is the key word.

Vaughan, like every contracted player, will be at Valley Parade for a squad meeting tomorrow. His first trip along the M62 in six months will be to collect his training kit and learn all the protocols that must be followed in these weird times.

But the doubts on his future will accompany him.

The anonymous transfer feeds that flood social media this time of the year are rife with the rumours that he will be back off to Prenton Park.

Having finished last term playing – and scoring – for a club so local to his family home, it’s understandable if he has slogged across the motorway this morning with a heavy heart.

But he is well paid to be a Bradford City player and the club aren’t just going to roll over and let him leave at a whim.

If their public stance appears to be playing hard ball, and let’s not forget he is not even halfway into his contract, then you cannot blame them.

“Stuart’s got the full support of the hierarchy of the club,” City’s director of communications and commercial Ryan Sparks told the forum when asked for the board-level viewpoint.

“He knows that we are all behind him. We want the manager to manage and to recruit the people he needs.

“We would not want someone like James Vaughan to walk out of our club and we certainly wouldn’t hand him to a rival without significant compensation.

“As Stuart says, we know what he’s got in his locker and we both want him to be a Bradford City player in the coming months.”

City were embarrassed by the prolific success of Eoin Doyle firing Swindon to the promotion goal that they themselves had set after dropping down into League Two.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Eoin Doyle finished as League Two's top scorer after City let him join Swindon, initially on loanEoin Doyle finished as League Two's top scorer after City let him join Swindon, initially on loan

They would not want history to repeat itself should Vaughan follow suit in Tranmere colours.

Given the current landscape, I’d imagine there’s no way City would consider paying up the rest of his contract to allow him to go elsewhere.

If any player wants to force the issue, it would probably have to involve ripping it up and writing off what they are owed.

That’s pure conjecture on an uncertain scenario. Nobody knows all the ins and outs.

But City have played their hand for the fans to see and it is a strong one for now.