Southgate’s ‘secret weapon’? – Palmer’s rise to England hopeful

Chelsea's Cole PalmerGetty Images
  • 6 hours ago

The next few days are likely to be nervy for several England hopefuls as they wait for Gareth Southgate to name his final Euro 2024 squad.

But one player virtually assured of his place among the 26 heading for Germany is Chelsea’s Cole Palmer – marking an incredible rise.

The 22-year-old has made only two England appearances – his debut coming in November – but, as England face Bosnia-Herzegovina in their first warm-up match in Newcastle on Monday, Palmer is being talked about as the Three Lions’ ‘secret weapon’.

Southgate will lose seven players from his preliminary 33-man squad on Monday, but a lot of eyebrows would be raised if Palmer missed the cut. A player who wasn’t even in the reckoning last summer has come a long way.

Palmer’s breakthrough season

Many in the football world were shocked when Palmer left Manchester City for Chelsea in a £42.5m deal on 1 September.

He had started this season well, scoring for City in the Community Shield defeat by Arsenal and the Uefa Super Cup win over Sevilla.

Both of those goals came after he had played a key role in England winning the European Under-21 Championship in Georgia.

Many considered it a risk for Palmer to leave his boyhood club, who had just won the Treble, and where he had started to break through, making 13 starts in a total of 41 senior appearances.

But City manager Pep Guardiola was not willing to allow a loan – so Palmer made a permanent switch and backed himself to succeed.

And succeed he has.

He scored 22 goals and provided 11 assists in 33 league games, playing a key role as Chelsea overcame a poor first half of the season to qualify for next season’s European Conference League.

Palmer’s incredible form also earned him the Premier League young player of the season award.

‘Chelsea’s player of the year’

Palmer became the first Chelsea player to be directly involved in 25-plus goals in a single Premier League season since Eden Hazard finished the 2018-19 season with a tally of 31.

In the Premier League during the season just completed, only Erling Haaland scored more goals than Palmer, and only Ollie Watkins provided more assists.

Palmer’s combined total of goals and assists for the campaign is greater than any other player from Europe’s big five leagues who started the season aged 21 or under.

It has been quite a 12 months for a player who was an unused substitute when City won the Champions League by beating Inter Milan in Istanbul.

Former Chelsea and Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas told BBC Sport: “I remember I was doing the Champions League final last summer. He was just warming up there, being one of these young players coming up, enjoying the experience, not being basically selected or looked at to feature in the game.

“And then all of a sudden – a big move to Chelsea. He starts performing at a very high level with a lot of quality and personality. He wants the ball, he makes things happen – the final pass, he scores goals.

“I was a little bit surprised by the move to Chelsea. I have to say I’ve been very impressed. I didn’t expect this type of impact and he has been the player of the year without any doubt for Chelsea.”

‘He could be another weapon internationally’

While Palmer is expected to be in Southgate’s travelling squad, his place in England’s starting XI is far from assured.

Looking at his numbers in the Premier League this season, an outsider may find that surprising, but he finds himself in direct competition with Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, James Maddison, Anthony Gordon and Jarrod Bowen.

Palmer’s preferred position is off the right, but he has shown for Chelsea he can play anywhere across the front line, and in a deeper midfield position.

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand told TNT Sport: “He is a wonderful talent. He has been the centre of attention in a couple of WhatsApp groups I’m involved in.

“One of my friends likened him to a Chris Waddle-type player. He has superb skill, his balance is mesmeric, it’s phenomenal.

“He is somebody that you look at with England. He is a great option. He is somebody that not everybody will know too much about on the European stage, international stage.

“He could be another weapon, internationally.”

Former England midfielder Joe Cole added: “The technicians are what are going to win us the tournament. They all have to go and they all have to have time on the pitch.

“Cole Palmer is an absolute genius.”

Where would Palmer fit into your England XI?

England XI for Euro 2024

Select your England XI for their Euro 2024 opener

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