Billy Gilmour is an exceptional young footballer. That is beyond doubt. After his first Premier League start for Chelsea, he was named man of the match.
It was the same story in the Champions League. And the FA Cup. And for Scotland at this summer’s European Championship.
“Nothing fazes him,” Andrew Robertson, Liverpool full-back and Scotland captain, said in June.
“That is why I believe he can have as many Scotland caps as he wants.
He has got a huge future ahead of him, but the here and now is pretty good as well.”
Those at Chelsea are fully aware of Gilmour’s prodigious talents. He ran games at youth level for the Blues and made the transition to senior football look effortless.
Liverpool at home in the FA Cup? No problem. A visit of Everton in the Premier League? Simple enough. Man City away? Nothing to be overawed about.
The problem that faced Gilmour at Stamford Bridge was those ahead of him in the pecking order were World Cup winner and Ballon d’Or
contender N’Golo Kante; European Championship winner and Ballon d’Or contender Jorginho; and Mateo Kovacic, whose CV includes spells at Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
Gilmour pushed hard during the second half of last season to force his way into the side. But only five appearances were afforded to the young midfielder by Thomas Tuchel.
It’s why this summer the decision was taken for the 20-year-old to head out on loan.
Tuchel felt it was the right call having spoken to Gilmour. “I love Billy in general, I always loved him,” the Chelsea head coach said last month.
“Even when he wasn’t in the full spotlight in the last half season. [But] he decided to go to have a bigger chance to play some minutes. That is important.”
Norwich City were the club chosen to take care of Gilmour for the 2021/22 campaign.
It appeared a shrewd decision as Gilmour would secure minutes under Daniel Farke, a coach who worked closely with Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund and understood the 48-year-old’s methods.
“I can’t wait for the season ahead,” Gilmour said after joining the newly-promoted Canaries.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming here, playing as much as possible and helping Norwich City compete in the Premier League.”
Gilmour was impressive in pre-season for Norwich. Then came the hardest of starts in the Premier League: Liverpool, Man City, Leicester, Arsenal.
- The Scotland international played the opening three matches, which all ended in defeat.
- He watched on from the bench against Arsenal but returned the following week against Watford.
That match played on September 18 ended in a 3-1 defeat for Farke’s side. Gilmour hasn’t featured in the top flight since, a run of five matches.
There is understandable concern among Chelsea supporters. It wasn’t supposed to happen, Gilmour was supposed to play. That was an expectation that swayed the Blues’ decision to send the academy graduate to Carrow Road.
“Billy is a fantastic player, a fantastic human being and of course he wants to play each and every second,” the Norwich boss said last month. “If you love football, you love Billy Gilmour because this guy is a baller, but he is also a young lad and we have to look after him.
“It is not always that easy for him with the hype in his own country, with lots of praise for him. I think he has a good mindset and works hard on the pitch. He has unbelievable potential.”
All good, right? But earlier in that press conference, Farke said this: “We are not here to develop players for other clubs, we are here to win points for this club.
“It is not about Billy Gilmour, about Brandon Williams [on loan from Manchester United], Kenny McLean or Temmu Pukki who are our players – we just like to play with the players to win points.
“This is also the challenge our loan players want to have – it is not like they want to play just because we have loaned them and they (parent clubs) want them to play many games.
“Big clubs, like Manchester United and Chelsea, do not want it easy for their players. They [the players] want to be Manchester United, Chelsea or Tottenham players one day, so they need to face a challenge and step up to it.”
That school of thought was echoed by Tuchel earlier this week. The Chelsea head coach insisted he wasn’t concerned about Gilmour’s lack of football, although he did admit the loan could be ended in January if required.
- “I spoke with Daniel about it [Gilmour’s loan] and I was happy to meet Billy around the match against Norwich,” Tuchel said.
“Sometimes these weeks and months arrive where the situation seems to be stuck or seems to be not going the right way. You have to hang in there, show your quality and help your team.
“That sharpens your character, it can be a big chapter in your career. That is the same for Billy. It is not the moment for me to give solutions for January or open talks to bring him back.”
Farke’s argument that it’s not his job to develop another club’s player has some merit.
His job is to only do best by Norwich – whether he is doing that at this moment is a wider discussion point.
However, the German coach has been in the game long enough to know that when a talented young player is borrowed from a top European club, the expectation is the player will be given first-team exposure and the flaws in their game are worked upon.
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Fail to do that and there will be repercussions. Gilmour, described as world-class by Scotland teammate John McGinn last month, will almost certainly be recalled by Chelsea in January if he isn’t handed minutes on the pitch in the weeks ahead.
Perhaps more damagingly, though, is the Blues’ hierarchy tend to have long memories when it comes to perceived mistreatment of their loanees.
The Athletic reported last year that the club still have misgivings about Brendan Rodgers due to how he handled Josh McEachran at Swansea City, Victor Moses at Liverpool, and Charly Musonda at Celtic.
Fortunately, the situation Gilmour finds himself in at Norwich is unlikely to cause alarm.
He is still performing at a high level when called upon by Scotland and in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, he has the perfect example that a player who endures a tough loan spell can still thrive in the first team at Stamford Bridge.
This season may well prove a speed bump in Gilmour’s rapid footballing journey. Quite how much he is slowed down, however, is up to Chelsea.
There can be no sentiment, no hesitation come January. Just like Farke, the club has to protect its own. If that results in Gilmour leaving the Canaries.
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