Regret :How Cole Palmer Emerged as the super Player Man City Now Regret Losing

The Unforeseen Rise: How Palmer Emerged as the Player Manchester City Now Regret Losing

It is a unique distinction, one that lends itself to both quiz and trick questions. Who is the only player to score in the Premier League, the League Cup, the Community Shield and the European Super Cup in the same season? The answer comes in the form of a man who has scored in two finals for Manchester City and cost them two points.

Cole Palmer’s Manchester City career was a statistical curiosity in itself: seven goals in six competitions – including a Football League trophy strike for the Under-21s – but none of them in the Premier League. His Chelsea career has been a revelation.

Having spent last season in the shadows at City – only 130 minutes of Premier League action before the title was won and none in the Champions League’s knockout stages – he has traded life as a substitute for a record-breaking team for the status of a star of a side of record-breaking cost. The £1bn project has a lone unqualified success. Once again, Palmer stands alone.

His first return to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday comes with further evidence of Palmer exceptionalism: in Pep Guardiola’s 900 games in management, only one has finished 4-4. It came at Stamford Bridge in November, the scores levelled in the 95th minute by Palmer from the penalty spot. It came with his now trademark brand of nerveless nonchalance that has led teammate Noni Madueke to call him “Cold” Palmer.

There is something quintessentially Mancunian about Palmer: the attitude, the swagger, the blunt willingness to use two words instead of stretching something out over 20. He is the boy from Wythenshawe who, in between breaking his mother’s pipes by playing football in the garden, was on City’s books from the under-eight level. He marked his first match against his old employers by cheekily poking his head into a City huddle, with Erling Haaland jokingly shoving him away.

But that feels part of Palmer’s personality: a refusal to be intimidated, a relish for the occasion, a capacity to make himself central. A big-game spectator for City, until this season, he has proved a big-game player for Chelsea: scoring against both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham, getting a brace in a Carabao Cup semi-final. Factor in his last two goals for City, in the Community Shield and the Super Cup and few footballers have scored in more major matches this season.

Or, indeed, in more Premier League matches. Only six have more than his 10 goals, only five more than his 16 direct goal involvements. And of those, only one – Haaland, predictably – is a City player. If it is safe to assume that Kevin de Bruyne would have been found near the top of the assist charts if he had been fit all season, the numbers are one reason why it is tempting to wonder if Guardiola privately regrets selling Palmer. That 95th-minute equaliser is another: should City miss out on the title by a point or two, it could be traced to Palmer’s penalty, his performance that day, his part in Raheem Sterling’s goal.

And over eight years at City, there are very few sales they will rue. They can wish Ilkay Gundogan stayed, but the out-of-contract German made his own choice. If Arsenal become champions, there will be an argument they should not have sold Gabriel Jesus or Oleksandr Zinchenko, but that does not mean City need either as players. Had they kept either Douglas Luiz or Romeo Lavia, then they may have avoided the mistake of Kalvin Phillips’ troubled time. Yet they would only have provided cover as Rodri’s back-up. Palmer is playing sufficiently brilliantly to suggest he could have been a first choice for City (the integral Bernardo Silva often occupies his preferred role on the right but could have shifted into the middle).

Certainly, he has had a far better season than two of City’s wingers, even if the underwhelming Jack Grealish and the inconsistent Jeremy Doku operate almost exclusively on the left, the Englishman can have a tactical importance and the Belgian’s dribbling renders him a unique proposition.

But perhaps Palmer was underestimated. Which, as Phil Foden is another Mancunian who operates in similar positions and came through the City youth system, may not be entirely surprising. And perhaps City were not alone in underrating him: go back to the summer and there was interest in taking him on loan from Brighton, Burnley and RB Leipzig. It was only in August that Guardiola said he would either stay or be sold, as if City had then realised there was serious money to be made. He became more profitable again when Chelsea entered the bidding; but they did so after missing out on Michael Olise. Once again, Palmer was the back-up option.

For City, he had started to look the closest thing to a replacement for Riyad Mahrez, but a fee of £42m was too tempting. In any case, Guardiola always says he won’t stand in the way of players who want to leave, providing it suits them. It was Palmer’s choice, but manager and player may not have been ideally matched. The winger’s personality is scarcely that of Guardiola’s beloved Bernardo Silva, with the Portuguese’s humility endearing him to his manager. Close to Sterling, perhaps too independent-minded for Guardiola’s liking, Palmer was different. But then his season has been different, his story too. And if Palmer proves the one Guardiola wishes he had not transferred, he could stand alone in that respect, too.

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