It is probably asking too much to expect those currently placing stories about Jarrad Branthwaite’s availability to give the slightest thought to the humble welfare of a 17-year-old boy.

It was Aston Villa on Monday, Celtic on Tuesday and who knows which other clubs are “monitoring his progress ahead of a possibly January move” by the time you are reading this.

Little more needs to be said on this other than to accept that, in the end, football is not a game for the naïve, and it is almost pointless these days to make the case for preserving a little innocence even when talking about a lad of 17 years and 149 days.

We know where this is already being steered and the further it goes, the better it will be that Branthwaite has the right attitude to his profession and, according to those around Carlisle United who speak about these things, the right family support.

Decisions will, after all, need to be made in due course and there can never be too many level heads at such a time, when angles are being worked and situations can soon be made to feel they are running out of your control.

Nobody should be foolish enough to assume Carlisle are not also figuring out what they would take for their bright young centre-half if, the moment the calendar clicks over to 2020, offers are slapped onto the table.

The Blues would have plenty to weigh up and given their position just now this cannot simply be a matter of finance. The game can sometimes feel like a distant consideration when the mad chat of transfer stories gets going but United, it hardly needs repeating, are in a certain predicament on the pitch and this adds another thick layer of risk to the possibility of losing Branthwaite.

Here is the situation in abrupt terms. At present, the young man is their best central defender. Just nine professional games in, yet when it comes to writing names on the team sheet, the kid from Wigton is already one of the first put down.

It was another mark of his progress that, when Carlisle went to Morecambe for a reserve game this Tuesday, Branthwaite was nowhere to be seen. Already the second-string is for other, older, players who are seeking “minutes” and favour.

The youngest of their centre-half ranks is ring-fenced for first-team action and when you look at the others it is clear why. There is nobody else, this autumn, who you’d class as a sure thing.

Byron Webster’s struggles are no secret even though, so far, he has carried managerial (and caretaker) faith. The equally-experienced Nathaniel Knight-Percival has lost his starting place. Jon Mellish has been in and out, no less raw than a kid five years his junior. The talk about Aaron Hayden, also 22, was that his display on Tuesday might nudge him closer to a first league appearance of the season.

None is currently making what you would describe as a cast-iron case. Branthwaite, in contrast, has started United’s last eight games and so when January comes we would not just be talking about losing a richly promising young player, but someone the Blues are starting to rely on.

We have been here before with mid-season departures, normally at the front of the team and generally involving older talent. Readjusting after a key man goes has proved impossible, as demonstrated by the post-Charlie Wyke period in 2017, and the enforced shuffle of loanees last winter.

It can be, if you are not careful, a rotten time to be rebuilding and given Carlisle are, unlike those times, now in a survival battle, seeking new defensive foundations would seem treacherous.

There would be funds, one would hope, to go for a replacement if United cashed in on Branthwaite, and it should not be impossible to source at least some credible help for a part of the team that has too often come loose. Such individuals might be in their sights already.

Imagining it as straightforward is, though, foolish, and a more sensible plan would surely be to do everything possibly to ensure Branthwaite, come February 1, is still able to pull on the blue shirt.

If that means accepting an irresistible offer that includes a loan-back option, so be it. If it means playing harder with those chasing him, and holding off until the summer, even better – both for the team and, quite possibly, Branthwaite’s value.

If it is the alternative – lose him to someone’s under-23s, money in the bank but an uncertain lunge for replacements under a new “head coach” who is suddenly without one of his best tools – it would be an unfortunate and potentially damaging turn of events for more than one party.

For Branthwaite, to vanish from the first-team radar so quickly would be a travesty. “If you’re playing, you learn so quickly,” said another ex-United prodigy, Rob Edwards, and he was talking about being in the front line, as opposed to the bloated mass of “development” hopefuls even at elite level.

For the club, it would be the disappearance of one of their few reliables in a season which remains one more bad spell away from crisis.

On the pitch, Branthwaite’s next mistake may come soon. He might, as Chris Lumsdon has put it, get “schooled” by a savvy striker. He was, though, capable against the varied threats of Richie Bennett and Tom Pope at Port Vale last weekend, and – again – let us remember he only makes it past single-figure appearances today.

What is best for Branthwaite in all this is the most responsible and humane first question for anyone to ask. A close second – what’s best for Carlisle? – will require some astute answers indeed.