EXCLUSIVE: ‘I want to play regularly and win trophies – and hopefully play for England!’ Meet the wonderkid dubbed as Man City’s next superstar… Cole Palmer is loving life under Pep Guardiola and is ready to make the most of his big break
Cole Palmer has a McDonald’s burger in his hands as he prepares for his first newspaper interview. He takes a bite before handing the box over to his agent. He looks for all the world like a normal 20-year-old lad from Manchester.
He is, but he is also the forward Pep Guardiola described as ‘special’ and the player tipped to be the next Manchester City superstar.
But right now, he is unhappy with his rating in the video game FIFA 23. ‘Sixty seven… could have been a bit higher,’ Palmer tells Sportsmail. Asked which areas he would have liked a better score, he replies: ‘All of them!’
Talented prospect Cole Palmer is expected to be Manchester City’s next superstar
Palmer enjoys playing FIFA, but is not happy with his current rating on the video game
It is clear from the first minutes of this interview that Palmer is a reserved and down to earth young man. His personality off the pitch is in contrast to his performances on it. Anyone who has watched him live will recognise that he is a confident, mature and exceedingly gifted player.
Palmer has made 21 first-team appearances, having made his debut in 2020. A first senior goal in the EFL Cup last year was quickly followed by his first in the Champions League. In January he was man of the match as he scored and assisted in an FA Cup third-round tie at Swindon.
His goal that night led to one of the best post-match interviews of last season. ‘I’m delighted, Prem soon come,’ Palmer told the ITV cameras, referring to the fact that he only had the league left to crack. Fans loved his nonchalant response. One supporter was even seen wearing a ‘Prem soon come’ T-shirt at City’s pre-season tour of the USA.
‘If you’re from my area what I said was not like, mad,’ Palmer laughs. ‘But to everyone else they might think, “What’s he on about?” It’s just slang from where I’m from. I didn’t think too much of it but then afterwards it blew up and I was thinking, “Oh, my days!” Everyone was laughing about it.’
Palmer has already impressed for City and has his sights on becoming a first team regular
Palmer’s earliest memories of football are training with his dad every night in the local park. ‘He’d teach me little things I didn’t know how to do,’ says Palmer. ‘The first thing we did was protecting the ball. From then, just shooting.
‘Put him in the net and I’d blast the ball at him. He was all right, but I’d rip him now if I played against him!’
Despite his slight build, Palmer is deceptively tall, standing at 6ft 2in. But growing up the forward was the smallest player on his team, not that it hampered his development.
‘When I was little I used to want to be big so I could just kick it past everyone,’ Palmer says. ‘There was a kid across the road from me when I was growing up who was older than me and he was pretty good at football.
‘I was speaking with my dad not long ago and we were saying if he didn’t live there I probably wouldn’t be as good as I am because he was bigger than me. I had to learn how to play football. Now I’m older I’ve realised it was probably better it worked out like that.’
Palmer cannot remember how he got scouted by City at the age of eight but believes it must have been at a local tournament. His memories of moving from the academy to train with the first team are clearer.
Palmer came through Man City’s academy and now regularly makes the matchday squad
He says: ‘I just went over thinking, “I’m here now, I may as well try to do something,”’ Palmer says casually. ‘From when I started training there I’ve stayed there. If you’re playing with the best players you’re only going to improve. I just enjoy it. It’s a challenge.
‘It is a difficult jump to make because academy football is completely different. Even how you shoot and stuff, the difference is mad. But in terms of the way we play, it was near enough the same patterns in Under 23s.
‘It does help but it’s still not an easy transition. Over time I felt more comfortable.’
Training with Erling Haaland has also helped. Unlike Premier League defenders, Palmer gets to see a different side to the Norwegian. ‘He is a bit more chilled in training,’ Palmer says. ‘But yeah, when it comes to game day he just bangs them in.’
Palmer’s close control, precise passing and impressive dribbling make him the perfect Pep player. He laughs off the suggestion that they are a match made in heaven, but says the 51-year-old has already had a huge impact on his development.
‘Firstly, by giving me opportunities to play, advice on the training ground, what to do better,’ says Palmer. ‘You can see what he does with players and how he improves them, so when he’s talking to me I just try to get as much from him as I can. When he does his meetings, 99 per cent of the time they’re always spot on. It is a bit mad!’
Guardiola appears to be applying the same approach to Palmer as he did with Phil Foden, who was kept at City to develop rather than being loaned out. Foden was embedded into the first team gradually, despite fans’ clamour for him to start every week, and Palmer has taken confidence from his team-mate’s progress.
Palmer is enjoying learning from legendary manager Pep Guardiola every day in training
‘It has shown me there’s a path there, but even if he didn’t go through to the first team I still would have believed I could do it. Seeing someone do it gives you a bit of hope because it’s always nice to see.’
Since moving to the Etihad Campus in 2014, City have built one of the best academies in the country. But it was Palmer who finally delivered silverware two years ago. After missing the decisive penalty in the 2018-2019 FA Youth Cup final against Liverpool, Palmer netted a late winner as City beat Chelsea 3-2 a year later. In a moving tribute, Palmer dedicated the goal to his former team-mate Jeremy Wisten, who had taken his own life a month earlier. It was the first time the club had won the competition in 12 years and it ended a run of four successive final defeats.
‘You know what it’s like when you miss a pen, obviously it’s not nice,’ Palmer says. ‘I was upset but it’s one of those things, you just get on with it. The year later, I didn’t even think of the other game and I scored the winner. It was only afterwards I thought, “Oh yeah, I missed last year and I’ve just scored the winner”.’
Palmer signed a new contract with City last year which will keep him at the club until 2026. Outlining his short and long-term plans, Palmer says: ‘I want to play for City’s first team regularly and win trophies and hopefully play for England at major tournaments.’
Should he manage all that, there is every chance he will see an increase to his FIFA rating.
Cole Palmer was at a McDonald’s Ultimate Gaming Event to celebrate the launch of the McCrispy. The chicken burger will be on the menu from October 19.
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