Kasey Palmer says Huddersfield return 'was something I wanted to do'
His is a tale increasingly typical of 21st century football. Kasey Palmer signed a new contract with one club one day and joined another on loan 24 hours later. It is especially pertinent as his permanent employers are Chelsea, even though he has never made an appearance for them. Now hired by Huddersfield for a second successive season and preparing for a first taste of the Premier League, he can reflect on the changing career path for English youngsters.
A double Champions League winner -- in the form of the UEFA Youth League, where he even scored the decider in the 2016 final -- he cites promotion with Huddersfield as the highlight of a promising career. An England youth international and part of the squad who won the Toulon Tournament in 2016, he can vouch for the importance of first-team football in a player's development, as well as the significance of joining the right club and finding a progressive manager. He was one of 38 players loaned out by Chelsea last summer. He was one of five borrowed players by Huddersfield, two of which came from Stamford Bridge, as short-term signings propelled them into the top flight. He scored the winner on his senior debut, starred in Huddersfield's stunning start to the season, but missed almost the entire last three months with injury. It was nevertheless his breakthrough year.
For Palmer, a No. 10 who can pick a defence-splitting pass, it was an education, especially playing for David Wagner, the manager who shares pressing principles with his former Borussia Dortmund sidekick Jurgen Klopp. It was why he was so keen to rejoin the Yorkshire club, regardless of which division the playoff victors found themselves in.
"It was always a possibility to return if we got promoted and even if we were to stay in the Championship, it was something I wanted to do," he said. "I wanted to work again with the manager. I spoke to him before the final."
Wagner is a demanding taskmaster. That suits Palmer. "He likes what I do on the ball but he will batter me if a pass doesn't come off [about] how I'll react and how I will defend off that, so it is good," he added. "It is something I have never really had before. I have always been told how good I am with the ball. He is big on reactive pressure and reactive defending."
That focus on his defensive duties in first-team football is part of the difference the 20-year-old has noted. The stakes are higher. In a summer when England's youth teams have excelled, winning the Under-20 World Cup, the Under-19 European Championship and the Toulon Tournament, there have been renewed questions about how many emerging players will be granted opportunities at clubs that stockpile expensive signings.
Palmer's words are instructive. He serves as an advocate for the loan system. "There is only so much you can do in the [Under] 23s until you go out and play in men's football like I learnt last season," said the Londoner. "It is a different game. You are playing for three points, there is money on the line, it is just so much more about it than playing in the youth team at Chelsea. Winning youth cups and winning the youth Champions League is great but it is not the same as winning promotion. It is a whole different level."
It explains why he was so eager to return to Yorkshire. "I had to sign a new deal before I came back on loan," he explained. Now he serves two employers: the demanding, charismatic Wagner and Chelsea, who provide a comprehensive level of supervision, overseen by loan technical coach Eddie Newton, and plenty of feedback.
"Even in preseason [friendlies], they will get some clips and send some stuff to me about what I got wrong and what I didn't do well," he explained. "They will constantly be watching me, monitoring my game, coming and see how I train."
Life at Chelsea has had its benefits, especially for one in his position. "I look up to [Eden] Hazard and [Cesc] Fabregas," he said. Perhaps a creative player has more in common with the latter; he has been more supplier than scorer and there are already signs of an embryonic understanding with Huddersfield's club-record signing, the £11 million striker Steve Mounie, but Palmer is looking to get in the box himself. "In the past it was more about getting assists but I think in men's football it is more about adding goals to my game," he explained. "Everyone likes a midfielder who scores goals."
More goals would help but he is realistic about his ambitions. Other graduates of Chelsea's academy, whether Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah or Dominic Solanke, have decamped elsewhere on long-term deals to end the cycle of loans. Palmer is philosophical about his own possible progress. "The ideal situation is to go back to Chelsea and play in their first team but that is not always the case," he said. "Hopefully if the pathway is to get back to Chelsea; that is great but if it is to be elsewhere then I will have to see what is best for myself. For this season, my focus is on doing the best for Huddersfield, scoring and assisting and playing to the best of my abilities. Wherever that takes me, it takes me."
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.