Cole Palmer proves he is ready for England: ‘Huge ability, huge mentality’

Cole Palmer does not believe in auditions.

He believes in giving you his Oscar speech right here, right now. He is a young man in a hurry, his career moving at such velocity that the plane to Germany will struggle to catch him rather than the other way around. The phrase ‘breakthrough season’ is inadequate to describe Palmer’s impact over the last 10 months, because he has smashed the season into smithereens and rebuilt it in his own image.

Palmer leaves questions spinning as he tears forward: is he a fool for leaving Manchester City, is he good enough, is he ready for England? All of them are upended in his slipstream: 22 Premier League goals and 11 assists for Chelsea, more goal involvements – an ugly phrase but which does a job – than anyone else. The young player of the year, a first start for his country and, wouldn’t you know it, a first goal. And so it becomes far more pertinent to ask: are England ready for him?

On a night when Gareth Southgate’s team of stand-ins and possibles and maybes groped for urgency, grinding through the gears – the first half against Bosnia & Herzegovina was a case study in the utter futility of the human condition, AKA The International Friendly – Palmer made his mark. He was not perfect. He was not irrefutable. But he was entrusted with the No 10 role on his full debut for England and he was trusted with the ball when a penalty was awarded. Naturally, he converted it.

It was not a remarkable England performance but these things, in their own way, are remarkable, or would be if they weren’t engulfed by Palmer’s other milestones.

“He has carried Chelsea this season and that, in itself, is incredible,” Alan Shearer, the former England captain, told The Athletic. “He’s got huge ability and a huge mentality.” Seven months ago, he hadn’t played for Southgate’s side. Two days ago, he had only played 37 minutes of regulation time.

Cole Palmer converts his penalty in ice-cold fashion (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

And now? When Southgate chops his preliminary squad of 33 names down to 26 for the European Championships on Saturday, it would only be remarkable if Palmer wasn’t in it. “There’s more to come as he feels more comfortable in the group and we get to feed him the ball as he needs it,” the head coach said. “He can obviously play in a couple of different positions, but he’s had a fabulous season and there’s no reason he can’t have a big impact with us.”

There was a tang of criticism, too. “A couple of times, Cole was being too precise and if he got his shots away earlier maybe he could’ve got a couple,” Southgate said. But Palmer was also England’s player most likely to, as they say in high school yearbooks. He demanded the ball and, when he got it, he looked to use it for adventure and invention. If he was too precise, then at least he was not dumbstruck by conservatism, as others were. These are the standards he has set.

Uncertainty is anathema to Palmer. When he scored from the spot – Harry Kane, who was about to come on as a substitute, made a futile plea to take it himself, the cheeky blighter – the crowd at St James’ Park mimicked that celebration of his, rubbing their upper-arms as if struggling for warmth. Cole makes a summer’s day feel cool, a nonchalance when it comes to pressure that could be vital in Germany over the next few weeks. How often have England lacked and craved that coldness?



Breaking down the brilliance of Chelsea’s Cole Palmer – ‘Within one touch, he can hurt you’

Off the pitch, he was more circumspect and fair enough, because nobody likes a bighead. “Tonight wasn’t my best game, (I was) finding my feet on my first start, but hopefully I’ve done enough,” he said.

Others were more definitive. ‘We’re very happy to have him and I’m delighted he got his goal,” Kane said, which may not have been wholly truthful. “We’re going to need our players to chip in throughout this tournament so the more people feeling good the better.”

In attacking areas, Southgate’s resources are rich. Palmer, Ollie Watkins, Jarrod Bowen and Eberechi Eze were the starting front four against Bosnia & Herzegovina. Kane (who got his goal in the end), Ivan Toney, Jack Grealish and James Maddison were on the bench. With Anthony Gordon, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden all itching to come back, England have an array of pace, goals and creativity, which is before we mention tempo-setters Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice.

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Gareth Southgate names his final Euro 2024 squad on Saturday (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It will not be the only consideration when Southgate names his final squad after the friendly against Iceland at Wembley. “We understand the significance for all the players, so we’re giving it the respect and the consideration it deserves,” he said. “It’s always going to be subjective and we’ve got to balance what we need in every area of the pitch, so that’s the added complication. It’s not just getting the best individuals in, there’s a positional element to it as well.”

Bigger picture, there were no disasters, no injuries, no pressing causes of angst. Smaller picture, Eze was another positive full debutant, with Southgate saying he “caught the eye with the way he started and the way he glides past people and the power he shows.”

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There was praise for Trent Alexander-Arnold who scored a sumptuous first-time goal and displayed poise in midfield and hope for Crystal Palace’s Adam Wharton. “There’s no question he’s impressed us,” Southgate said.

They cannot all go, but Palmer surely will. At 22, he is on a roll and in a rush, powered by momentum and irrepressible form and that unshakeable belief. At half-time and 0-0, when England were struggling to pierce Bosnia & Herzegovina’s obdurate, five-man defence – useful practice, perhaps – Southgate preached patience. He told his players “to try to get the ball through to Cole, in particular, a little bit earlier.”

Palmer was the key and keys unlock. Already ready. Already, he belongs.

(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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