Cole Palmer believed when Man City did not – now Chelsea will reap the benefits

Mauricio Pochettino is giving the youngster the freedom to impress after chances didn’t come often enough under Pep Guardiola

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 13 November 2023 10:59 GMT
Palmer has adapted well and will relish facing former club City, says Pochettino

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Louise Thomas

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Cole Palmer has made good on his promise, and all too quickly. That isn’t just his obvious talent but also his repeated statement that he wants to show what he can do.

Palmer never felt he was going to get that chance at Manchester City so, even though he went with the club’s best wishes, the 21-year-old will have enjoyed that such a launchpad display came against his former club. Those who know him speak of that spikiness to him, that tends to be useful for an elite footballer.

That’s the level we are talking now, already. There was never any doubt about Palmer’s ability, of course, but it’s still striking how he has gone from a player just considered promising to one having real impact in the Premier League.

There was some confusion among rival clubs when Chelsea signed him for £42.5m. It was considered another piece of strange business, typical of the new ownership who believe they can out-think everyone.

Many of those same people are now talking about Palmer potentially being the young player of the season, as he makes himself one of Chelsea’s senior players. What was so impressive about his display in the 4-4 against Manchester City - even beyond the coolness and nerve to take a 94th-minute equalising penalty - was how he shaped the game. Palmer pretty much conducted Chelsea’s attack, linking play, creating openings. It was the perfect foil for Raheem Sterling’s running. That was a mentor-young player relationship that could now become a real partnership, which is not to forget the livewire pace of Nicolas Jackson either. The Senegalese striker actually has a scoring record from his fist few games that is superior to some of his most celebrated predecessors. Sterling meanwhile greatly praised Palmer when Chelsea asked his opinion.

So much revolves around the younger player now. There is just such substance to his play.

(Getty Images)

It all of course raises the question of why City let him go. Some of it just speaks to their strength in depth. There was also the benefit to Financial Fair Play, because of the unintended consequence of the rules that it is more profitable to sell on academy graduates as it is pure profit.

The core of it, however, is that Palmer himself wanted to go. He pushed for the exit, having seen an approach from Brighton for a loan turned down.

There was some surprise at City, given Pep Guardiola told him he would get more minutes due to Riyad Mahrez leaving. Palmer just didn’t think there would be enough minutes, especially with Jeremy Doku signed. There was some dissatisfaction at the appearances he was given last season, and when. Most were really late substitution appearances and one of his two previous Premier League starts was in the weakened team that lost to Brentford when the league had already been won. He has already played more at Chelsea than he did for all of his time at City.

There was just something deeper.

Those with knowledge of the player’s situation say Guardiola just never really saw him as a forward who completely fitted with his structure. “Not a Pep player” was one description.

(Getty Images)

That isn’t any dismissal of either player or manager. It’s just how it can be. Guardiola is highly specific about what he wants.

Figures at Chelsea meanwhile feel that Palmer benefits much more from the greater freedom of Mauricio Pochettino’s system. He’s able to express himself more, with that amplifying both his own quality and those of the team. Pochettino is said to absolutely adore him. He thinks Palmer can become the complete forward.

It is just one of those moves that made sense for everyone. That wasn’t something that was said at the time. Instead, £42.5m now looks like it might end up being cheap.

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