There aren’t many secrets in academic football today, and there weren’t many leading clubs that didn’t know 15-year-old Billy Gilmour. Europe’s top teams almost clashed with each other a few years ago in their attempts to sign young Gilmour of Rangers, with each of them spotting this little midfielder who never lost the ball.
Gilmour’s ability was so obvious that Arsenal as just one potential fiancé unleashed their charm on the teenager and his family. The Gilmours were invited from Ardrossan to watch the academy match, and were then asked to stay another day to meet Arsene Wenger himself. Wenger personally asked for an audience at Gilmour, hoping to persuade him to choose Arsenal over Chelsea.
The sales offer was convincing as one might expect, and Arsenal’s option was extremely tempting. But there are few academies in the world of football that could compete with Chelsea. At Cobham, they don’t offer a guarantee of playing in the first team, but they do provide the best possible coaching and performance. In Gilmour’s case, they also had Frank Lampard in the room when the family came to visit.
For Gilmour, it has always been a plan to establish himself as a Premier League footballer. He is described as having an insatiable appetite after the game, simply wanting to play as much as possible, and that momentum was one of the main reasons for his loan to Norwich City this summer. Norwich wanted a class in the middle, and Gilmour wanted more time than Chelsea as European champions could realistically offer this season.
Daniel Farke was the one who convinced Gilmour to cross to Carrow Road, and he spoke convincingly to him about the club project and the role of the 20-year-old in it. Which makes it all the more weird that Gilmour found himself out of Farke’s team after just a few games this season. He didn’t even break off the bench in five consecutive games.
Fans, professionals, teammates and coaches: everyone was confused as to why Gilmour was withdrawn by Norwich, who desperately needed his technical skills. Former Scottish striker Ally McCoist caught the mood while commenting on his country’s victory over Denmark last week when Gilmour was great again. “There has to be some team, this Norwich,” McCoist joked with determined language.
Farke’s dismissal and the subsequent appointment of Dean Smith already he seems to have changed the course of Gilmour’s season. Smith received rave reviews from John McGinn, his former midfielder at Aston Villa, and did not hesitate to reinstate Gilmour in the starting lineup. In Smith’s first game, he won last week 2-1
Southampton, Gilmour played 86 minutes and helped Grant Hanley win the winning goal.
“Billy will be key to staying upright,” Smith said. “When you have a loan player of this talent, you want to get the best out of him. She loves football and wants to be outside all the time. He watched our U-23 game on Friday night and was all over the pitch against Southampton trying to propel the players forward.
Hanley, also a teammate with Scotland, went even further in his praise. “I have no doubt Billy will play right at the very top,” he said before hinting at some confusion on the Norwich team over Gilmour’s exclusion under Farke. “He’s probably the best player in training every day and every time he plays, he’s probably the best player,” Hanley said.
Chelsea are, of course, watching the situation closely. Gilmour spoke with Thomas Tuchel a few weeks before Farke’s dismissal, when thoughts were already beginning to turn to the January transfer window and other possible options.
Tuchel is said to be excited about the idea of Gilmour staying at Chelsea this summer, starting him in three of the last five Premier League games last season and then watching him shine for Scotland at the European Championships when he was a man match against England. “Gilmour was always available,” Gary Neville said
a midfielder show at Wembley. “England don’t have that player.”