From Wythenshawe to Wembley: Cole Palmer's journey to England call-up
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For Cole Palmer it's always been about football. When asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t a footballer, he replied, “I don’t know, you tell me!”.
There's never been another option for Palmer, ever since he was scouted at around six years of age when playing for local side NJ Wythenshawe.
He would play a year up from his age group and ended up being called upon when they were on the receiving end of a few hidings at a tournament he was at to watch his friend.
Getting permission from his dad Jermaine, he quickly caught the attention of scouts in attendance.
"I went to watch my mate, Owen, play for Sale United at a tournament,” Palmer recalled to SPORTbible.
“He’s my age and I played a year up. And NJ Wythenshawe were there and they were getting beat every game. Then someone told the manager that I was at the tournament so he asked me if I would play.
“So then I said to my dad, ‘Can I play or what?’ He's like, ‘Yeah, if you want’ - so then I went and played.
“And then I was just scoring every game and winning. And I think from then, clubs got on to it.”
Manchester City were one of those clubs. He joined City at under-9’s level and for a while was still only slight in his frame.
Palmer had difficulty when coming up against those who were bigger and stronger but his dad always stressed that his ability would be the key.
"When I was playing for local team I would just dribble past everyone who was not as good,” he explained.
“But when I got to City it was probably the opposite. Because I was so little and small. I was always good on the ball but off the ball, or if I tried to go past someone, they’d just push me off.
“And I’d go home and I say to my dad, ‘I want to be bigger and faster’. But he was like, ‘You don't want to because when it levels out, technical ability's more important’.”
Palmer's old man is a huge influence on him. His earliest memories are watching him play Sunday League and he's proved to be a mentor as well as a father - not sugarcoating anything.
Having to put in the work has been drilled into Palmer early on by his dad, who he used to watch playing Sunday League when he was an infant.
He’s a mentor as well as a father and won’t shy away from telling him exactly think he thinks.
“He’s probably one of the only ones who doesn’t just say what I want to hear. "He’ll shout at me and tell me fix up and stuff.
“With mentality, it’s just one of those things that’s in you. It can be many things, from the place you’re from – you see people struggle everyday so you’ve got to work to get away.”
When he was playing at under-16’s, the crucial scholarship year, he had what he calls “one of the worst seasons”.
His development stunted as a result but then things started to fall into place when Palmer really applied himself.
“My attitude in the [under] 16 season was probably not the best to be honest. I don’t know what it was.
“I stayed down a year for the [under] 18’s and all the other players went up. They were saying, ‘If the penny’s gonna drop it’s got to drop now’. It must have dropped. I started working hard and from there just carried on.”
Palmer got his act together and captained Gareth Taylor’s under-18 side as they became national champions and won the Under-18 Premier League Cup.
Palmer scored 15 times, including a double in the final against Stoke City, and contributed further with five assists.
In the 2019 FA Youth Cup final, Palmer, on as a substitute, missed a crucial spot-kick as City lost to Liverpool.
Unlike his four successful four spot-kicks this season, he did not keep his cool and hit the crossbar.
But he made the best possible response just over a year on when he bagged the winner in a 3-2 win over current employers Chelsea at St George’s Park. dedicating it to former teammate Jeremy Wisten, who sadly took his own life.
Palmer played through the pain and it was a touch and go as to whether he was going to be able to start.
“I wasn’t even going to play in the final. We played Blackburn on the Friday and I'd sprained the ligament in my ankle in the first half.
“I had to go off and I was just icing my foot. Even in the warm-up we didn’t know if I was going to play because my ankle was just finished. But I thought, ‘I’m going to have to play aren’t I?’ and I took some tablets. In the game you just try and forget about it don’t you.”
By this point, Palmer had already trained with Pep Guardiola’s stars and was named on the bench on four occasions during the Premier League restart in June 2020 following the COVID-19 pandemic.
His debut came in the Carabao Cup against Burnley on 30 September 2020 and he went on to score in the Carabao Cup and Champions League with neatly placed finishes against Wycombe Wanderers and Club Brugge respectively
The first Champions League goal came just a few days after Palmer carried out double duty in playing two games in the same day.
He was a late substitute for the first-team in a 2-0 win over Burnley and then was immediately thrown into a match for the under-23’s across the road from the Etihad Stadium at the City Football Academy, where he notched a hat-trick.
“I was in the squad for Burnley and I saw that the [under] 23’s were playing at seven o’clock. I was warming up and I wanted to come on. I was warming up for ages.
“Everyone went and sat back down because it was like the 88th minute but I thought, ‘Nah, I’m not going to sit down’.
“I was just warming up hoping that he [Guardiola] would see me. He’s looked to the left and seen me, then shouted me to come over.
“Rodolfo [Borrell] said, ‘There’s a game tonight’ - they were saying if you come on now can you play later and I said, ‘Yeah I think so’.
“Then I went on. After the game I kept some of my kit on. I missed pre-match so I just ate in the changing room and went out and played.”
Swindon Town’s County Ground will go down as an important venue for Palmer. On 7 January 2022, he scored his first FA Cup goal in a 4-1 thrashing, also setting up Bernardo Silva in the victory.
World class post match interview from Cole Palmer.pic.twitter.com/x3yPKd8iYT— City Report (@cityreport_) January 7, 2022
Afterwards, Palmer earned even more plaudits for his post-match interview with ITV, where he showed what a down-to-earth lad he is.
These interviews have become a regular occurence whenever he's on camera.
Palmer was asked about what manager Pep Guardiola would have made of his display, with the City boss not in attendance due to catching COVID-19.
Initially misunderstanding the question, he responded “Who?!” before admitting he hoped the Catalan enjoyed what he saw.
But the real highlight of the chat was when he uttered the phrase, ‘Prem soon come’ in a thick Manchester accent.
It went viral online, with fans loving how Palmer spoke as if he was chatting with his mates.
“After the interview I know it went mad and stuff but I didn’t really see why it meant so mad. It’s just Manchester slang.
“You want to be yourself but we do have media training.
“You don’t want to say the wrong thing so many people just say the normal stuff. It is difficult.”
Last season, Palmer was part of the City side which won a historic treble, playing 25 times but primarily coming off the bench.
But on deadline day, Palmer sealed a £40 million move to Chelsea, signing a seven-year contract after telling Guardiola he didn't feel as though he would play regularly.
Almost immediately, the 21-year-old has become their main man and his decision has been more than justified.
A day later, Palmer, who is also eligible to play for St Kitts and Nevis, was called up to England alongside Rico Lewis and Ezra Konsa following a slew of injuries.
He played a starring role in the Under 21 side winning the Euros against Spain in the summer, but now it's time to see what he can do in the senior squad.
Brilliantly, he thought the whole thing was a "blag" but his England debut could "soon come" with upcoming games against Malta and North Macedonia.