Cole Palmer is a man on the move, from Manchester City to Chelsea, from perennial substitute to pivotal starter, from England Under-21 player to, perhaps, a senior international. It has been a few months of swift change. He is trying to get used to new surroundings, having swapped south Manchester – in his native Wythenshawe – for the South.
“The most annoying thing? The traffic, that’s the biggest thing for me. Everything else I am enjoying. It is hotter than Manchester as well,” he said. Certainly Palmer feels hot property right now, albeit while exhibiting a certain coolness. He was calm enough to score an injury-time penalty for his new club against his old on Sunday, completing a 4-4 draw, and cheeky enough to poke his head into a City huddle when they were lining up a free-kick, to the amusement of Erling Haaland.
Perhaps it summed up Palmer’s inability to feel intimidated by anything that he marked his goal against City with a shrug. There was no getting carried away. “I spent 15 years at the club,” he noted. “I can’t really go and celebrate how I would celebrate if I have scored a 95th-minute equaliser because it would have been disrespectful.”
The alternative explanation is that Palmer has scored so many major goals in the last few months that this was merely another. He struck in the Community Shield and the European Super Cup for City, against Arsenal and Tottenham for Chelsea. That big-match temperament may equip him for tournament football in an England shirt. So, too, his nerveless penalty-taking.
He has, in effect, anointed himself as the spot-kick taker for the £1bn team, taking the ball at Turf Moor to open his Chelsea account. “It was just an in-game thing, really,” he said, with a matter-of-fact stance. “Once I scored at Burnley, I just thought: ‘I’ll take them’.” If penalties have been the English disease, Palmer has no hesitation when asked if he would be willing to come off the bench as a specialist from 12 yards for a shootout. “Yeah, I would be,” he said.
He is not daunted by the last penalty he missed, as a substitute in the shootout when City lost the 2019 FA Youth Cup final to Liverpool. He can only remember failing from 12 yards on one other occasion, “when I was dead, dead young versus [Manchester] United,” and a willingness to take responsibility is similarly apparent in open play. “I think I am a player who always wants the ball, anywhere, to try and help the team get out of a difficult situation or create a chance,” he said.
If he has created an opportunity for himself with his country because of his excellence at Stamford Bridge, it had not formed part of his thinking. “I wasn’t even thinking of an England call-up when I first went to Chelsea,” he said.
Nor, indeed, was it on his agenda as a boy, when his mother banned him from playing in the garden. “I was always breaking her pipes,” he recalled. He has come a long way since then; particularly in 2023. “Yeah, it’s been crazy,” he said. “The changes have happened so fast. From winning the Euros to signing for Chelsea then getting signed up here.”
His part in England Under-21s’ European Championship win may have caught Gareth Southgate’s eye. His immediate decision was whether he had done enough to impress Pep Guardiola. There had been interest in taking him on loan, from Brighton and Burnley and RB Leipzig. City decided that he could only leave on a permanent deal and Chelsea forked out £42.5m. “Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed?” Palmer mused. “Maybe I would have played more, maybe not. But I think the decision to go to Chelsea so far is paying off.”
That is an understatement. And if there seemed a risk involved in swapping the stability of City for the seeming madhouse of Stamford Bridge, there was evidence of more cool-headed thinking from a 21-year-old. Chelsea have been manic buyers but he said: “I did look at how many players were there but I don’t think people realise how many players they actually got rid off, as well.”
The departures of, among others, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and Joao Felix, meant there could be opportunities in the attacking midfield positions. “I looked at the squad and thought: ‘If I go there and know what I can do then I’ll have the chance of playing’,” he said. “And thankfully it’s happened.” If there seemed plenty of traffic in the queue for places in Southgate’s attack, Palmer seems to have accelerated past several rivals. Now an England debut could follow in the next week.