In a season marked by the number of young players who have burst through for Chelsea, Stamford Bridge still hadn’t seen anything like Billy Gilmour’s performance against Liverpool last week. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori have all caught the eye recently, but none have the shimmer of the Scottish teenager.
Gilmour was Man of the Match in Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Liverpool, following that up with another mature display in a Premier League win over Everton just days later. In both games, the 18-year-old was the best player on the pitch. There is a sense that a star of genuinely world class quality was born last week.
He is Scotland’s most exciting young talent in a generation. Gilmour has long been tipped for the top, first identified as a potential star of the future when he was at Rangers a number of years ago, but his Chelsea breakthrough suggests that he is ready to make the next step in his development. Gilmour might look his age, even younger, but in a footballing sense he is ready for the elite level.
A place in Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for the historic Euro 2020 playoff against Israel (Scotland are 9/10 to win their semi final tie), and possibly Norway or Serbia after that, should therefore be a given. Gilmour may have played only a handful of games for Chelsea this season, but his standard is already so high that international recognition should be forthcoming. He deserves a place.
However, it is often the case that Scotland leaves it too long to introduce new players to its national team set up. Take Tom Cairney, for instance. He was, for a spell, the best player in the English Championship, the kind of player Scotland were desperate for at the time. Someone who could set the tempo and pick a pass in the final third. Yet Cairney has only ever appeared twice for Scotland and has still to make his competitive international debut.
Ryan Fraser is another whose international induction was inexplicably staggered. Now 26, the Bournemouth midfielder has been a proven Premier League performer for a number of years, registering more assists than anyone else in the division last season barring Eden Hazard. Fraser, however, only has 11 Scotland caps to his name and until fairly recently wasn’t even guaranteed a place in the squad.
Leigh Griffiths was also made to wait longer than was necessary to be fully introduced to the Scotland team, with Liam Cooper still continually overlooked to this day despite the country’s desperation for solid centre backs. Being one of the English Championship’s very best has only been enough to earn the Leeds United defender two Scotland caps to date.
John Fleck offers another example of this peculiar pattern. The Sheffield United midfielder might have only made his Premier League breakthrough this season, but Fleck has shown promise for years. The former Rangers man has so far made just two appearances for his national team, though.
For a nation that has struggled over the past few decades to produce top level talent, Scotland has a crippling habit of hesitating when talent does appear. In Gilmour, they have a young player who could feasibly become one of the best in the sport. He is already playing at a level that suggests he would be of use to Scotland, particularly with Euro 2020 qualification on the line.
Media reports claim Gilmour will be kept in the country’s under-21s for the time being. This is a waste of time. The teenager has already demonstrated for Chelsea that he is capable of the pressure that comes with first team football. Liverpool and Everton was a tougher test of Gilmour’s readiness than Israel will be. By keeping him out of the national team, Scotland are only holding back their most exciting player in a long, long time.