When Chelsea decided to fork out £42.5 million to sign Cole Palmer from Manchester City this summer, it was considered another odd piece of business typical of the new ownership.
Despite impressing in all youth categories at the Etihad Stadium, the versatile forward never had a chance to showcase his value at senior level, forcing him to wave goodbye to his hometown.
Maybe Palmer failed to fit his criteria, or the Spaniard wanted a different type of forward. But Guardiola never trusted the Englishman enough to hand him a real chance in the first team.
It was a bit mind-boggling, considering he promoted Phil Foden to the senior squad at age 18, giving him the benefit of the doubt and aiding his development every step of the way.
Whatever went wrong between Guardiola and Palmer resulted in the 21-year-old swapping the Etihad for Stamford Bridge on September 1. Only two months later, he came back to haunt Man City.
Chelsea held the perennial Premier League champions to an enthralling 4-4 draw on the eve of November’s international break, with Palmer coincidentally snatching a point for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
Heading into the encounter, Palmer boasted better stats than Foden in almost every aspect of the game. Truth be told, he had far more minutes on the field, but it takes nothing away from his incredible numbers.
Palmer completed more key passes (84) than Foden (51.8), made far more progressive runs (72.3) than his Man City counterpart (45) and was involved in more offensive actions (71.7) than the 23-year-old (51.8).
From a raw talent to a senior star
All it took was a bit of trust from the manager and a supportive environment for Palmer to develop his unquestionable talent into Chelsea’s driving force.
Unlike last season, where he was a benchwarmer at Man City, the Blues’ star in the making has become one of the Premier League’s headline performers, already managing more minutes than in the entire 2022/23 campaign.
Mustering six goals and four assists in 14 competitive appearances has been a fitting way to repay Pochetitno’s belief as Palmer soaked up the limelight as the team’s beating heart in the final third.
Palmer’s creativity, sharp movements on and off the ball, playmaking prowess and a keen eye for goal have made him indispensable for Chelsea only two months into his west London adventure.
And the crowning achievement came in the most significant fixture of all, as the calmness and composure he showed to put away a late penalty against Man City was off the charts for such a young player.
What’s the catch?
Guardiola has a reputation for being highly specific about what he wants, while his insistence on suffocating individual brilliance for the ‘greater good’ is no secret.
The Spaniard has developed a specific model, which often gives the individuals little or no wriggle room, as he insists on quick passages of play at the expense of solo runs.
It’s difficult for a young player to thrive under such restrictive guidelines, and that’s not to mention Guardiola’s frequent squad rotations that have often frustrated even the established senior stars.
By contrast, Pochettino has given Palmer all the freedom in the world.
Aware of the young gun’s potential, the Argentine has enabled his summer acquisition to express himself more and assume the creative reins.
While putting so much pressure on someone who’s still adjusting to top-flight requirements can be counterproductive, Pochettino’s gamble has seemingly paid off.
England manager Gareth Southgate has recognised Palmer’s rise to stardom, as evidenced by the teenager’s first-ever international call-up.
As it stands, £42.5m spent on Palmer looks like Chelsea’s best deal under Todd Boehly.
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