Manchester City youngster Cole Palmer has reportedly agreed a transfer to Chelsea, for a fee in the £40-45 million range. It is somewhat surprising to see the 21-year-old make the move considering how high the treble winners were on him. Chelsea are set to make the player their 11th signing of another busy window in west London.
Palmer is a local lad, born in Wythenshawe. A versatile midfielder who can also operate on either wing, his talent has been a talking point for a long time. Such are the terms in which the England under-21 international is talked about, it is actually surprising to hear he has only played 19 league games for City. It is that lack of first team opportunities that seems to have spurred on this surprising move.
Palmer is reaching the age where he wants to be playing regular football. No longer simply a wonderkid at 21, the midfielder feels he has more to offer. Some would argue that makes Chelsea a bizarre choice of next move. Given the absolute transfer frenzy the club has been on since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital took over, it is difficult on the surface to see where Palmer fits in.
Typically used as a number ten, Palmer doesn’t have an obvious place in the 3-4-2-1 tactic Mauricio Pochettino has favoured most often this season. You could envision Palmer occupying one of the slots in that attacking two behind the striker. But he faces competition from Raheem Sterling, Carney Chukwuemeka, Noni Madueke and Enzo Fernandez who have all played there so far this season. That’s not to mention how Pochettino will set up once Christopher Nkunku is fit again.
The logjam has already caused the club to listen to offers for Conor Gallagher and Callum Hudson-Odoi. If Palmer was looking for a club who would build around him, he came to the wrong place. But that’s no insult. You have to admire a young player backing themselves to such a degree. Palmer certainly won’t have looked at the Chelsea squad and considered himself a bench player within it.
The bench was likely where he would have stayed at Manchester City and once again that is no slight on him. But Pep Guardiola’s side have just agreed a £53 million fee to sign Matheus Nunes from Wolverhampton Wanderers. It is unlikely Guardiola would have signed off on such an outlay on a player he didn’t feel was crucial to his plans. Given the timing of the Chelsea news, coming on the same day City lodged their Nunes bid, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the two are related.
City put a lot of stock in their academy. The Etihad Campus is a world class facility and the pipeline is steadily churning out high-potential footballers. But apart from Phil Foden, none of these graduates have gained a lasting foothold in the first team. While City can sell goalkeeper James Trafford to Burnley or defender Carlos Forbs to Ajax for fees rising to a possible £19 million each, they don’t seem able to properly develop youngsters for their first team.
Not that the treble winners or their fans will lose much sleep over it, so long as the masses of trophies continue to pile up. While Pep shepherded that wonderful gifted La Masia intake at Barcelona, at City he’s seemed content to shop for what he needs. Guardiola remains a master at improving and developing players, but nowadays he uses his talent on signings rather than academy talent.
It is against this backdrop that Palmer is heading for Stamford Bridge. Signing for Chelsea will have pleased a player who was surely not keen on dropping down too far in terms of the size of club he played for. But Pochettino has shown in the past how adept he is at bringing the best out of young players. Those first team opportunities Palmer has craved might not come straight away, but given time and patience he could end up exceeding even the loftiest predictions City insiders have made about him.