Could Cole Palmer’s off-the-cuff talent prove to be the answer for England?

Could Cole Palmer’s off-the-cuff talent prove to be the answer for England?

By the time our 20 minutes with Cole Palmer are up, the England winger has managed to rave about Riyad Mahrez’s first touch, reveal that Austria have been one of his favourite teams at Euro 2024, claim Londoners are way moodier than northerners, talk about getting on for 20 minutes against Slovenia, praise Mauricio Pochettino’s time at Chelsea, elaborate on his relationship with Enzo Maresca and, most importantly of all, correct erroneous reports that he has an obsession with baked beans.


The answers are short, sweet and often pretty illuminating. Palmer does not skip a beat before revealing that his first position was left-back. It was a throwaway comment, but he suddenly looks horrified. He glances at the press officer sitting to his left and wonders if he has put his foot in it. Is Gareth Southgate about to stumble upon the answer to England’s problem position? “I am talking under-10s!” Palmer says. “Under-10s! I have never played left-back since. I was tiny and I just got put left-back. When I was 12 I moved further and further up.”

The final third is where Palmer belongs. The 22-year-old is fresh from an outstanding debut season at Chelsea and is desperate to be given an opportunity from the start for England. He was an unused substitute in their first two matches at the Euros, but he impressed after coming on against Slovenia on Tuesday. “I was just excited to get on for 20 minutes and thought I was going to try to do something or make an impact,” Palmer says. “I could have scored at the end.”

A little more composure from Palmer and England could have snatched a 1-0 victory. Coming in from the right, he had time to bend a shot into the far corner only to place the ball too close to Jan Oblak. A better finish would have lifted the atmosphere. Palmer, who scored 25 goals in all competitions for Chelsea last season, is normally so cool. Did the miss haunt him? “Nah.”

There are quite a few clipped answers. There is a long, pointed pause when Palmer is asked if Pep Guardiola really did try to convince him to stay at Manchester City last summer. He smiles, thinks about what to say and looks away. “Next question,” he says. Message received. Whatever the truth, City’s loss was Chelsea’s gain. Pochettino liberated Palmer. The Argentinian talked about Chelsea becoming “Cole Palmer FC”. Everything went through him. There were glorious assists, outrageous goals, nerveless last-minute penalties. Nothing fazed Palmer. There is an argument that his off-the-cuff talent could make him perfectly suited to international football.

England have two goals from three games. Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham are getting in each other’s way. Bukayo Saka looks jaded on the right. There is a clamour from supporters for Palmer to start the last-16 tie against Slovakia on Sunday. “It’s nice to see but it’s not up to them, is it?” he says.

Palmer insists he is being supportive from the bench. But he feels ready to play. This is a talent who once came on in a first-team match for City and then sped off to play in an under-23s game straight after. It is easy to see why he left City for £42.5m last summer. “I was thinking for a good week if I should leave or not but I just didn’t want to be in the same position as I was the past two years, being a bit part player,” he says. “I would come on for 20 minutes and then not play for five games. And then come on for five minutes. I couldn’t get any rhythm.”

It was different at Chelsea. Palmer quickly became undroppable and he was key to them finishing sixth. He says Pochettino “just gave me the opportunity and the freedom and said: ‘Do what you do.’” No wonder there was sadness when Pochettino departed by mutual consent last month. “He put his trust in me and we built a good relationship,” Palmer says. “Not just with him but with all his staff. When he left I was gutted.”

Chelsea have brought in Maresca, who coached Palmer at City. “I had Enzo at City Under-21s for a season and then he went to Parma,” Palmer says. “I went up with Pep [to the seniors], he came back as Pep’s assistant. He’s a really good coach.” It was Maresca who turned Palmer from a No 10 into a right winger. “What’s the trophy the U21s play for?” he says. “That Papa Johns thing. When I was young I was meant to play in that and they though I’d have a better chance on the wing than the middle.”

Mahrez was first choice for City on the right. Palmer learned “everything” from studying the Algerian. “Basics like which foot to control the ball with, when to run, when to come inside,” he says. “Stuff like that. I used to watch his clips on YouTube the night before a game.” Palmer loves football. He remembers going to Brazil to visit his grandfather and watch the 2014 World Cup. The only problem? England were already out by the time Palmer arrived. He had to settle for Belgium’s 1-0 win over Russia at the Maracanã.

Now Palmer hopes this is his time. He will not hesitate if required to come off the bench to take a penalty should England be heading towards a shootout. The first aim, though, is to make a proper impact in general play. England are crying out for creativity. Palmer is a man of few words but he is perfectly capable of doing his talking on the pitch.