Scotland's impressive 0-0 draw against perennial rivals England in Euro 2020 owed a lot to the presence of Billy Gilmour presence in midfield.
If someone told football fans that before England-Scotland encounter in Euro 2020 that all the talk would be about the performance of a 20-year-old making his full national team debut, they’d understandably be sceptical. Yet here we are. Scotland’s impressive 0-0 draw against perennial rivals England owed a lot to the presence of Billy Gilmour in midfield. It is amazing to think about, yet not that amazing if you are familiar with Gilmour’s meteoric rise. He is only in his second full season of senior football, but has the temperament and ability to influence games. To say it is scary to think how good he can become is an understatement.
There was little surprise in football circles when Gilmour was called up for the Scotland side to take part in Euro 2020. But few if any would have him start Scotland’s biggest game of the tournament.
Indeed, Scotland are so well stacked in midfield that Scott McTominay – an established member of Manchester United’s squad – often plays in defence for the national team.
Yet not only did Gilmour start – he shone. He didn’t just look to make up the numbers – he looked to stamp his authority. As a result, he earned the Scots a valuable point – and himself plenty of plaudits.
It’s almost forgotten now, but Gilmour’s senior debut for Chelsea in 2019 was a disaster. He came on in the 84th minute against Sheffield United in a Premier League game.
Given Gilmour is known for his composure on the ball, he looked harried that night. He wasn’t helped by the fact that this Chelsea side, still in the early days of Frank Lampard’s stint in charge, had little discernable identity.
To make matters worse, Chelsea conceded a late goal that saw them drop 2 points on the night. Little did their fans know what impact he would go on to make in the near future.
He made his first full start against Luton Town in the Carabao Cup, as Chelsea won 7-1 on the night. Given the nature of the opposition, it’s not the best indicator of a player’s quality.
But Gilmour shined in that game, dictating the pace of the match from midfield and keeping things moving. Brighter days were ahead, and so it proved.
He was handed another start on March 3 in an FA Cup tie against champion-elects Liverpool. Granted, this was not a full-strength Liverpool side but Gilmour once again impressed.
He ran the game from midfield, showing sense and maturity beyond his years as Chelsea booked their place in the next round. He also went viral for pulling off an astouding nutmeg on Liverpool midfielder Fabinho.
Amazingly, this wasn’t the high point of his season. He started Chelsea’s next game too – a Premier League encounter against Liverpool’s neighbours Everton. And again he stole the show.
Gilmour put in yet another complete performance as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners. Now, people were seriously starting to pay attention to the diminutive Scot.
Sadly for him, his debut season was cut short by a knee injury and he didn’t make as many appearances in the 2020/21 season. That’s not to say, however, that he wasn’t impactful when he did play.
Indeed, his Champions League debut against Krasnador saw him earn the Man of the Match award. Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel rates him so highly he implored Scotland manager Steve Clarke not to leave him out of the Euro 2020 squad.
That exclusion, it must be said, never felt likely. And his performance against England showed why.
For one, Gilmour brings something different to the Scotland midfield. His silky passing, good reading of the game and preparedness to take risks going forward make him a valuable cog in any midfield.
However, an underrated trait possessed by Gilmour is his tenacity. He is not just a very good footballer, he’s also extremely hard working.
That he can combine his smooth technical ability with industry aplenty was evident against England. He made more passes than any of his teammates and had more ball recoveries than any player on the field.
What’s more, Gilmour’s calmness in any situation means he wilfully takes risks that players 10 years his senior might not. He looks to collect the ball in dangerous positions and drive forward – either with a take-on or a pass.
What’s more, his passing is often progressive – he isn’t a recycler of possession like club teammate Mateo Kovacic, for example. And again, it must be reiterated that he’s only 20 years old.
But Gilmour’s potential isn’t just down to his ability – it’s also a matter of the fact that he’s a thinking footballer who doesn’t let the occasion faze him.
It’s telling that he has received four Man of the Match awards so far – and all came on debut. His FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League debut all saw him get the MoTM honour. Now he did it for Scotland too.
Before the England game, Billy Gilmour was just a youngster with unlimited potential. After the game, he’s a Scottish hero with the world at his feet.