As the country’s best young players approach the age of 18, they are assessed by the FA’s coaches. About where they are on the ladder and how high they can go.
There was no doubt about Cole Palmer in the mind of Ian Foster, who has managed three of England’s age groups. Potential: Senior first team. Despite reservations elsewhere, not least within Manchester City, he was unequivocal.
Foster, now Steven Gerrard’s assistant in Saudi Arabia, will have raised a smile. A First Call from Gareth Southgate follows Palmer’s remarkable opening weeks of life at Chelsea, his life as a £42.5million footballer and his life away from home, away from the bosom of City.
Palmer, 21, carries the air that he is destined for a long international career. A positive arrogance on the grass, in contrast to the shy individual he distances himself from.
His composure in converting four penalties for Chelsea – and even in taking over those duties – suggests he has the confidence to face the inevitable scrutiny. When it comes to officiating matches, his ability is evident.
Chelsea’s Cole Palmer was destined for the top and has been given a senior call-up for England
Palmer’s ability is clear but this was not always appreciated by City, who considered releasing him
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That was not always appreciated at City. They might have released him five years ago without the intervention of former academy director Jason Wilcox. Coaches and the hierarchy were divided over whether he was worthy of a scholarship, which now feels somewhat ridiculous. It meant he had to work harder than anyone else.
He was physically underdeveloped and had to compensate for that with a sharp brain. City made big signings in his position and spent a significant amount on Ben Knight from Ipswich. Wilcox vouched for the boy from Wythenshawe and Palmer was given a contract that was shorter and less well paid than most of his peers.
The pecking order had been established and Foster received calls from some at City who wondered why Palmer continued to send Knight to the national sides when things were different at club level. Their trajectories couldn’t be more different since then. While Knight spent a spell on loan at Crewe Alexandra, Palmer scored in a Super Cup final and became increasingly frustrated with a lack of minutes for Pep Guardiola’s Treble winners.
He began debating a move around March, wondering whether a loan would be his best option this season. This became even more pronounced in the summer when it became clear that City were on the hunt for a new winger with more pace, culminating in the arrival of Jeremy Doku.
Palmer told them he wanted to leave, City asked him for an acceptable offer and left for Stamford Bridge on deadline day. The night before boarding the early train to Euston, Palmer sat in his car at the City Football Academy and took it all in.
At that time the move was not yet 100 percent certain and he did not know whether he should say goodbye. Although born a Manchester United fan, he had spent thirteen years of his life in the blue half of the city after City spotted him at youth team NJ Wythenshawe.
Palmer received his first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad on Monday
During his time at City, Palmer rose from the academy to the all-conquering first team
Always the most technically gifted, he honed his skills with his father, Jermaine, at Hollyhedge Park near Gatley. Until recently, he still rented seats at the local Power League for him and his friends during his time off. There is a street football player in him. Add that to the spirit that Guardiola has shaped and you have a serious player.
Guardiola’s staff loved him. It was notable on Sunday that even after his dramatic late equalizer and cheeky celebration, Palmer was welcomed into the City dugout and spent a significant amount of time with the backroom team after the 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge. He still wants to go back and also thank those who took care of him at the academy.
“The next star,” said a City source after just a few days of first-team training. Always a standout performer in sometimes brutal sessions, Palmer followed in the footsteps of Phil Foden. As with Foden, City turned down dozens of offers to take him on loan. Unlike Foden, he suffered injuries at crucial moments and then put too much pressure on himself to spark when opportunities presented themselves.
Palmer admits he tried too hard to impress last season, which is surprising for someone who is usually so relaxed that he is horizontal.
“Cole needs to be incentivized,” a source said as Palmer broke into the seniors organization. Minutes would always be crucial for someone who normally has high self-confidence. To satisfy that, Palmer once scored a hat-trick for the Under 23s about two hours after a cameo appearance in the Premier League.
“If you only train and don’t play, it’s not good for him,” Guardiola said at the time. It also suggests he should have no problem joining England Under-21s again if asked.
Palmer eventually reached that awkward stage where he was too good to sit on a Premier League bench, meaning he needed time and space to fully develop but was unable to gain his manager’s full trust.
Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff loved Palmer, who had been molded by his former manager
Palmer studied Mauricio Pochettino’s squad and suspected this was an opportunity waiting for the taking
In that sense, a move to Chelsea suited all parties. Palmer studied Mauricio Pochettino’s squad and potential threats to his own place and suspected this was an opportunity waiting for the taking.
“How he does it is not surprising,” says England Under-21 boss Lee Carsley, who played him up front, wide right, as a No. 10 and deeper midfielder when they won the European Championship this summer.
‘There will be dips every now and then, but if you keep believing in players like Cole you will get your reward. He is certainly not overconfident, but he is confident about his game. Like many of the top players, there is no point in the game if he doesn’t want the ball. That generally separates the good from the special, and Cole certainly falls into that category.”
City staff laughed at the fact that nothing upset him after his first Champions League goal at Club Brugge two years ago, when Raheem Sterling was the first to congratulate him on his strike from the edge of the penalty area. “It was a ‘wow’ moment,” the source said.
Nothing has fazed him at Chelsea either. Learning to cook, do laundry, and getting around on the subway are all more intimidating than football. Father Jermaine – whose legacy means Palmer also qualifies to play for Saint Kitts and Nevis – is helping him settle in, but the comforts of home are missing. There’s also no chance to grab a takeaway from his favorite Lebanese restaurant near Stockport.
Everything is new. And for many, it feels like Palmer himself is. Yet those who know him believe it was only a matter of time.