Historically, preseason has provided opportunities for fringe and young players to showcase their worth, an annual audition ahead of the real show.
Unlike many of his predecessors at Chelsea, Frank Lampard has spoken enthusiastically about the club’s academy, adding credence to the claim that youth integration is an achievable prospect under his leadership.
From talking about the path between the academy to the first team during his introductory press conference as Chelsea manager to allowing several young players to impress; no longer are the Blues’ most talented youngsters alienated from the first-team.
During his first game in charge, a 1-1 draw with Bohemians, Lampard fielded a youthful starting eleven for the second half, and one player who impressed was Billy Gilmour.
Despite not travelling with Chelsea for the next phase of their preseason tour in Japan, the Scotsman has impressed greatly over ninety minutes of action in two appearances for the Blues. Upon finishing Chelsea’s 4-0 triumph against St Patrick’s, Lampard spoke to Chelsea’s official media about Gilmour’s impact. He said, as reported by Metro,
“Billy Gilmour has had a brilliant trip. He’s a young lad, the personality he’s shown on this trip to play two games at the level he’s played them have been great. I just hope Billy just keeps pushing on with that now this season.”
The teenager only turned 18 last month, and yet he looked utterly poised during his preseason appearances. Since joining Chelsea from Rangers at the age of 16, Gilmour has shone at youth level progressing from the Blues’ under-18 side to their under-23 team.
In 61 games in various competitions at youth level for Chelsea, Gilmour has contributed towards an impressive tally of 26 goals (17 scored, nine assists). The Scot contributed significantly to the Chelsea side that reached the UEFA Youth League final last season. He added towards five goals (four scored, one assist) in seven appearances in the competition.
During that time, the starlet has been deployed in five positions, including a handful of appearances on both flanks. Although the teenager is regarded for his positional flexibility, most of his appearances have been as a central midfielder – where he featured in both of his games in Ireland.
Upon initial viewing, the most noticeable feature of Gilmour’s game is his composure. The teenager isn’t physically imposing, but he plays with immense assuredness. Football’s most esteemed players excel because they reduce the act of playing to a simple exercise. Such an impression is bestowed on fans when watching Gilmour.
When watching Gilmour, the way the Scottish youngster commands proceedings feels akin to a Fabregas-Hazard hybrid. He has the vision and range of passes that the Spaniard exhibited countlessly at Chelsea infused with the skill and turn of pace that has characterised Real Madrid’s latest galactico. Gilmour is an intelligent player who can assess situations swiftly and act accordingly.
The former Hibernian footballer and now Scottish football expert, Tam McManus, wrote about Gilmour in his column for The Herald. He spoke of Gilmour’s outstanding performances at the Toulon Tournament, his first real exposure to the Chelsea youngster and applauded his temperament. He said,
“I had heard a lot about Gilmour but hadn’t seen much of him until that tournament. He was outstanding. He played with a maturity and a hunger that belied his tender years but it came as no surprise to the coaches who had nurtured him from 11 or 12 years old.”
“Billy was always first on the training pitch and last off it. He was coachable and took on board everything he was being told. Just two days after receiving the Best Breakthrough player award at the Toulon Tournament he was putting in the hard work at the gym down at Chelsea, not off on holiday and drinking with his mates.”
The 18-year-old demonstrates fantastic maturity, and while all of Gilmour’s club appearances have come at youth level, the teenager is no stranger to responsibility or leadership. The Scot made his first appearance for Rangers’ under-20 side and was invited to train with the senior squad at the age of 15.
He has represented Scotland at various youth levels including eight appearances for the under 21-team, with Gilmour playing his first game for the side at the age of 16. Throughout his career, Gilmour has been thrown into testing environments and has thrived. A quality reaffirmed by former Rangers manager Mark Warburton who lauded Gilmour following a Rangers under-20 game. He said,
“I saw Billy play for our under-20s last weekend. As a 15-year-old up against four or five Dundee first-teamers, he was excellent.”
For a player so young and of limited experience, the 18-year-old has embraced and overcome each of his challenges commendably.
He didn't play for the U19s until he'd turned 17 (went to Toulon as an U21 just before turning 17) but has since captained the 21s, and the overall sentiment is correct. A terrific talent and great guy too.
— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) July 13, 2019
Chelsea’s failure to provide opportunities that their young stars warrant has been well-documented, but the return of Frank Lampard signifies a positive change for the club.
Gilmour will benefit enormously from Lampard’s forward-thinking approach. He has caught the eye in his two appearances, and while Chelsea have a plethora of midfield options, Gilmour has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
The west London side triumphed against league rivals such as Manchester United and Arsenal to sign Gilmour, indicative of the regard in which they hold the youngster. Now the teenager must press ahead and demonstrate why he should play for the Blues consistently.