Cole Palmer has excelled, but transfers like his aren’t a good sign


Stamford Bridge fell silent; the nervous tension was palpable. At the end of one of the greatest Premier League matches in recent memory, Chelsea had a penalty to snatch a draw against Manchester City, who led 4-3. Cole Palmer stepped up, looking completely unfazed.

It was significant, not just for the point on offer and most dramatic of finales to such an incredible game, but because of Palmer’s situation. He was a City boy, growing up at the club and emerging under Pep Guardiola, who stood on the touchline willing him to miss. He made the £45m move to Chelsea last summer under a cloud of scrutiny; while his talent has always been noted, and never more so than in the corridors at his former club, the Blues had signed plenty of talented young players under owner Todd Boehly without any discernible purpose or plan of action, meaning many of them floundered. It was assumed Palmer would go the same way.

But he scored the penalty and it served as a catalyst. His performance was stand out that day, and he has gone on to not only buck the trend at Chelsea and grow as a player, but become their beating heart, while thrusting himself into the England conversation at the perfect time before Euro 2024 next summer. Right now, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are on the periphery of the European battle; if they are to qualify this season, you sense Palmer will be their driving force.

Suddenly, from questioning his price tag when he made the move, now City are being asked why they sanctioned the sale of a youth product who, having shown promise both in terms of quality and understanding of Guardiola’s complex and demanding style, was performing at the very top level. The answer, rather frustratingly, lies with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules.

This January transfer window has been dominated by talk of the red tape in place to stop clubs overspending. In essence, losses exceeding £105m over a rolling three-year period are not allowed. Everton, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City have all been charged to varying degrees, with the former having been docked ten points already this season. There has been lots of criticism of the rules from different places, with the main issue being the stunting of growth and maintenance of the status quo.

Clubs like City and Chelsea have existing revenue streams bigger than most. They also have the deepest squads, with more sellable assets. But there is one element of that which does more damage than good; because income and profit are so key to keeping in line with the regulations, selling players for more than they were bought for is the smartest approach. But the best way to make the biggest profit is to cash in on academy graduates. These are the players who have the biggest connection to clubs and who fans most identify with.

Nobody at Manchester City wanted to sell Palmer. Guardiola wanted to keep him and eventually build him into the team. Just days before he went to Chelsea, there was talk of a loan move to West Ham as part of a deal for Declan Rice. Recently, Palmer admitted he saw his future at City, the club he and his family support, until everything changed.

“My thing was to never leave City,” he told Sky Sports.

“That was not my intention. I wanted to go on loan for a year, come back and be ready for the first team.

“But they said I couldn’t go on loan, either stay or you get sold.

“So then, Chelsea rang me. I said I wanted to go to Chelsea and I’m really happy to be here.

“I’m very glad I made the decision to come here.”

Palmer was never likely to start regularly for City but surely he would have done in the future. From a financial perspective, City couldn’t afford to wait and had to pull the trigger. Chelsea themselves, through the sales of Mason Mount and Lewis Hall, have done the same thing.

There are many reasons to question PSR in its current form, but surely the biggest one is that is actively encourages clubs to discard exciting talented youngsters. It is one thing for the likes of Chelsea and City, who have developed conveyor belts to generate value, but it also weakens smaller club’s resolve if they want to keep someone they’ve developed.

For someone like Newcastle, too, who are in the camp of clubs trying to close the gap to the ‘big six’ from a financial standpoint, it is something they may need to consider. Local players who get opportunities at St James’ Park are a rarity; now there are three regular squad members when fit. Sean Longstaff, Elliot Anderson and Lewis Miley are all fans of the club, born and bred locally, but there could theoretically be a scenario where they are seen as commodities for healthy profit.

Palmer’s form at Chelsea has been a great story to watch this season. But it will not be good for football if transfers like him become more common. Unfortunately, that seems inevitable.

Author: Mark Hayes