It was so clear at the beginning. In 2020 – days before the nation dived into lockdown and with Frank Lampard in his first spell as Chelsea manager – Billy Gilmour announced himself at Stamford Bridge.
In an FA Cup match against Liverpool, the 18-year-old played with blinding maturity and elegance. At the time, Gilmour had managed just six outings and 281 minutes for the Blues. Nevertheless, he was undeterred by facing Fabinho. He strutted around, spraying the ball with purpose and bravely crunching into tackles as Chelsea registered an impressive 2-0 victory.
Lampard was enamoured by Gilmour’s glowing display: “What an incredible performance for a young player. He was a calm head in that first five or 10 minutes. He’s a throwback of a midfielder.
“Can you put your foot in? Yes. Can you make angles to play the passes? Yes. He’s only slight in stature but he’s huge in personality. He deserves people to talk about him after a performance like that.”
Since making the move to Brighton for a club-record £30m, João Pedro has emerged as a regular in attack under Roberto de Zerbi with 15 goals and 2 assists in 28 apperances.@alexjconnor takes a look at the current UEFA Europa League top scorer:https://t.co/plPkDiFfoi pic.twitter.com/wuKp93NFfn
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 16, 2024
A youthful, absorbent and technically gifted teenager under the tutelage of the greatest midfielder in Premier League history can only go one way, far from it. It has not been easy for Gilmour. Lampard’s brutal sacking and Thomas Tuchel’s appointment effectively ended his hopes of becoming a regular in west London. The Champions League-winning German was always reluctant to use the Scotsman. An uninfluential loan at Norwich City intercepted this bleak period but his career had spiralled into irrelevancy. In need of minutes and a fresh adventure, Gilmour signed for Brighton.
However, the recurring theme struck again: managerial change and fierce competition meant Gilmour struggled to make an impact in his debut season, making just 14 Premier League appearances. He was pitted against the ruthlessly efficient trio of Pascal Gross, Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. But in a reshuffle that saw the South Americans depart, Gilmour was afforded his long-awaited responsibility. He has appeared in 20 of Brighton’s 21 top-flight games and played in every match of the club’s debut European campaign that has seen them top the group.
In the years of mixed education and scattered senior appearances, we are now in the formative years of Gilmour’s development. He has generated little fanfare and has quietly gone under the radar as one of the most intelligent pivots in the country. Under Roberto De Zerbi’s intuitive and meticulous microscope, he ranks in the top 9% in Europe’s top five leagues among his positional peers for progressive passes per 90.
Suddenly, the memory of that diminutive 5 foot 7 orchestrator, who had Stamford Bridge on strings with that magical FA Cup performance, is fulfilling his undeniable potential. He was at his brilliant best in their 5-2 victory against Sheffield United in the weekend’s FA Cup fixture. Whilst João Pedro stole the show with a hat-trick, Gilmour controlled proceedings on both sides of the pitch with 6/6 ground duels won, 2/2 aerial duels won, 92/99 passes completed, 1 key pass, 2 fouls won, 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3/4 long balls completed.
De Zerbi has relished Gilmour’s evolution: “The improvement of Gilmour is incredible. I completely love him, because now he is playing very much like a leader on the pitch. He is improving in the quality of the pass, in the personality, how he can drive and control the game, drive the team. Big quality, big attitude, big player.”
After bouncing around from Stamford Bridge to Carrow Road, Billy Gilmour is finally receiving his flowers at the Amex. He is slick, tenacious and sharp. Still just 22 years old, he is still learning and developing but is on the right track in the perfect environment.
By: Alex Connor / @alexjconnor
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alex Caparros – UEFA