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Manchester City wonderkid Cole Palmer: 'I believe in myself, I think I'm good enough'

Manchester City wonderkid Cole Palmer: 'I believe in myself, I think I'm good enough'

Manchester City wonderkid Cole Palmer feels ready to follow in the footsteps of fellow academy graduate Phil Foden.

Cole Palmer’s face lights up when he tells the story of how he was first scouted. Around six years of age, Palmer was playing for local team NJ Wythenshawe and loving every minute of it. 

He was so good that he would regularly play for the age group above. However, when he was supporting his mate in a tournament, Palmer ended up being called upon by his team after they were on the receiving end of a few hidings. 

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 revealed in an exclusive interview with 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.” 

City, Palmer’s boyhood club, came calling. He joined City at under-9’s level and still only slight in his frame, he had difficulty when coming up against those who were bigger and stronger. 

Image: Base Soccer
Image: Base Soccer

His old man assured him that he had the necessary qualities to make the grade.

“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’.” 

Image: McDonald's
Image: McDonald's

Many of City’s academy prospects are sent to St Bede’s, who the club have had a ground-breaking partnership with since 2011/12. 

At present, according to the St Bede's website, 69 pupils play for City and work on a modified school timetable so they can train and play, but they still sit the same exams and progress is shared with their club. 

For Palmer, it was always football. When asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t a footballer, he replied, “I don’t know, you tell me!”. 

Palmer only ever had eyes on forging a career in the game but 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. 

Image: Alamy
Image: Alamy

“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 going on.” 

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.” 

Image: Alamy
Image: Alamy

In the 2019/20 season, Palmer really kicked on 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. 

But he made the best possible response just over a year on when he bagged the winner in a 3-2 win over 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 you know. 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. 

Immediately, he could see the difference in performance level. 

“I was more focused on the players [than working with Pep] to be honest. Like, because obviously when you go into the academy go over you think about all these players, like Aguero and that was all there out the time we went over. 

“And then obviously, when you see Pep, it's just like mesmerising. But now I'm getting used to it. 

“When you go from training with the [under] 18’s and 23’s to the first team, the difference is just mad. 

“The intensity, but then you look at certain things they do and you just think, ‘Wow’. 

“When you watch it on TV and the ball comes over, and it's spinning mad ways and stuff and someone controls it dead. People think it’s normal but it’s mad.” 

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.

Image: Alamy
Image: Alamy

“It was amazing,” Palmer recalled. 

“The week before I think most of the youngsters played against Bournemouth. I didn’t come on and I thought I was going to play to be honest. 

“The next game, I knew the day before in training. All the players around me were all first-team players so it was a good place to make my debut. 

“You just dream of it. It’s kind of a cliche but every time you’re on the pitch you just want to score so you can run to the fans.” 

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. 

Afterwards, Palmer earned even more plaudits for his post-match interview with ITV, where he showed what a down-to-earth lad he is. 

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.” 

Image: Alamy
Image: Alamy

Don’t get it twisted though, he is desperate to get off the mark in the Premier League after some bright cameos. “Dying for it” is how the 20-year-old put it. 

Left-footed and brimming with technique, Palmer is the one City are hoping can follow in the footsteps of poster boy Phil Foden, who is now closing in on 200 appearances for his boyhood club. 

The England international, 22, has lifted four Premier League titles and won back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year awards. 

But there was a time where many questioned his route to the first-team and called for him to go out on loan. 

Similar is happening with Palmer, who could have gone out on loan but is following the same path in being around the first-team and learning from the best in Guardiola. 

He’s not being big headed when he says he believes he belongs in the City first-team and is hopeful of more gametime this season after making eight substitute appearances and scoring at the Nou Camp in a friendly against Barcelona.

“Before Phil there wasn't really anyone but when you see someone do it, You think, ‘Right if he can do it, then why can't I do it?’ 

“I believe in myself. I think I'm good enough. So I’ve just got to stick it out. And hopefully I can do it. 

“All the talk of him going on loan, it’s the same talk with me - ‘Am I going on loan?’ - but I think the best place to be if you want to get in the team and learn with the players, you’re going to have to stay there. 

“I could’ve gone on loan but everyone thought the best option was to stay. 

“It can work in different ways I think. But I'm a late developer so I probably wasn't ready to go out on loan at that stage. You know what I mean? 

“When I am getting more developed, I think I'd be best suited to stay so it was a bit of a sticky one. 

“The focus was more to just stay there and train with the best players. 

“He [Guardiola] said a few things to me, to stick at it and be patient. All the staff have said it to me often. 

“I’ve got to trust him to be honest, and hopefully, get more and more gametime.” 

Image: McDonald's
Image: McDonald's

Palmer is a regular with the England under-21's and wants to play for the Three Lions. However, he is also eligible to play for Caribbean nation St Kitts and Nevis through his dad. 

We’ve seen the likes of Michail Antonio, Ravel Morrison and Andre Gray change international allegiance with Jamaica, so where is Palmer’s head at? 

“There’s people over there that have talked about it but not properly,” he admitted. 

“The target is for England but if things don’t work out you never know.”

Cole Palmer was attending the McDonald’s Ultimate Gaming Event to celebrate the launch of the new McCrispy. The game-changing chicken burger will be added to the permanent menu from the 19th October #McCrispy

Featured Image Credit: Image: Alamy

Topics: Manchester City, Cole Palmer, Pep Guardiola, Premier League