Weekly Wonderkids: Episode 14

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One of Football Index’s unique attributes as a platform is that it allows traders to pick and choose which players to buy and sell, which to stockpile, and which to keep an eye on in the future. Traders can spot a promising footballer, buy stock in said player, and watch them flourish as the player’s profile grows on the world stage. If you truly believe that a teenage prospect who’s only registered a handful of substitute appearances will go on to become a Golden Boot winner, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is and add him to your portfolio.

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will analyse a new U-23 player who Football Index traders should consider buying in a new weekly series called “Weekly Wonderkids.” With this series, you’ll be able to discover which youngsters you should place your trust in – and money – and why.

Name: Billy Gilmour

Age: 18

Club: Chelsea

The roots of football can be traced all the way back to the third century, when Chinese people played ‘cuju’’ (literally: kick the ball), and tried to kick the ball through the opening of a net. But as far as the ‘modern’ game goes, the first official international football match was contested on November 30, 1872, a goalless draw between England and Scotland.

Both England and Scotland can be considered as football’s forefathers for ushering in the game in the 19th century, but in the 21st century, their fates couldn’t have been more different. The Three Lions have established themselves as one of the most feared teams in Europe, advancing to the 2018 FIFA World Cup semifinals. Scotland, on the other hand, haven’t made it to a single major tournament since 1998.

Nevertheless, that last part may be set to change. Scotland will face Israel in this month’s Euro qualifiers, that is, if Coronavirus doesn’t spoil the fun. If they win, they’ll face the victor of Norway and Serbia for a chance to qualify for the Euros. If they come up short, they can take solace in the fact that the future is the brightest it’s been in a while.

Scott McTominay (23) has played a key role in Manchester United’s top four chase, Andrew Robertson (25) has emerged into one of the best left-backs in football under Jürgen Klopp, and despite injury woes in his first year in London, Kieran Tierney (22) has what it takes to become a starter at Arsenal. But as premature as it may sound, the brightest talent that Scotland have in their ranks doesn’t even have a senior cap to his name.

At 18 years of age, Billy Gilmour is already making a name for himself at Stamford Bridge. With back-to-back man of the match performances against Liverpool and Everton, he’s proving that he not only represents Chelsea’s future, but their present as well.

Adolescence in Scotland

Growing up in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Gilmour was football crazy from the very start, often spending hours each day kicking a ball around at his local park. It didn’t take long before Rangers took note of his talents, snapping him up at the age of eight. With his mother working long hours and his father serving in the Royal Navy, his grandfather, uncle, and aunt pitched in to drive him to the bus stop every day, and pick him up at 9 p.m. after training was finished.

He attended secondary school at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock, a school created by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) to ensure that young prodigies could continue their football education whilst also getting a valuable education. Such was his potential that Rangers fast-tracked him through the academy and sent him to train with the first team at the age of 15. Even when playing against professional players, Gilmour impressed due to his intelligence, determination, and technique on the ball.

“I describe him as a [Luka] Modrić-type player,” said Gilmour’s youth coach James Grady in an interview with Goal. “He isn’t very big but he is technically as good as anyone with both feet. He has a tenacious side, he won’t overcomplicate things. He can dribble when he has to, he sees passes and he will get it and keep it until he can find a better pass.”

Gilmour impressed for Scotland’s youth teams with his leadership qualities and vision, and regularly wore the captain’s armband. Rangers were eager to tie him down to a first-team contract, but their efforts were rendered futile against competition from European giants.

Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich all pursued him, but it was Chelsea who won the race, paying a substantial fee for a player of his age. Due to performance add-ons that have been fulfilled well ahead of schedule, Rangers stand to make well over £1 million from the transfer, and if Chelsea do sell him, Rangers will take a 15% cut of the fee.

Based on his recent performances for the Blues, that’s a gargantuan ‘if’.

Rising Up Chelsea’s Academy

Gilmour arrived in London in July 2017, a month after his 16th birthday. He joined Chelsea’s under-18 team, and scored in each of his first three appearances. When he wasn’t playing for the Blues, he worked as a model for Burberry, much to the amusement of his teammates.

While Gilmour had already enchanted coaches and scouts with his excellent performances at the youth level, it wasn’t until the 2018 Toulon Tournament that he announced his God-given talent to the broader footballing community.

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U18s Premier League Cup Champions 🏆

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Despite being 3-4 years younger than most of his teammates, Gilmour stood out as the brightest jewel of Scot Gemmill’s side. Scotland topped their group, but lost to the eventual champions England in the semifinals. Gilmour won the ‘Breakthrough Player’ award for his silky-smooth passing, his composure on the ball, and his maturity that outweighed his 16 years.

While he was called up by Maurizio Sarri to train with the first team in November, he spent the 2018/19 season rotating between the under-19s and the under-23s. He started for the Blues as they advanced all the way to the UEFA Youth League Final, only to lose to Porto.

After impressing in pre-season, it seemed as if the next step would be to go out on loan to get first-team minutes. However, new manager Frank Lampard was adamant: he wanted Gilmour to stay at Chelsea and develop under his tutelage.

Breakthrough Under Lampard

Gilmour flew with the rest of the first-team squad to Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup, but he didn’t make his debut until two weeks later, coming on as a late substitute against Sheffield United. Perhaps it was a tad premature; the Blades ended up equalizing in the 89th minute, snatching a vital three points away from Chelsea.

Nevertheless, Lampard held strong in his conviction that Gilmour would come good. He signed a long-term deal that tied him to the club until 2023, and on September 25, he started against Grimsby Town. Chelsea thumped the Mighty Mariners by a margin of 7-1, and Gilmour was at the heart of it all, controlling the flow of possession from a deep role, breaking the lines, and playing out of pressure with ease.

His second start came against Manchester United, albeit in an advanced role, playing ahead of Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić. He struggled to make an impact in an unnatural role and was hauled off as Chelsea were eliminated from the Carabao Cup. The defining image came when Harry Maguire, nearly a foot taller than Gilmour, grabbed his throat and called him ‘a wee guy.’

Aside from a brief cameo against Crystal Palace, Gilmour had to wait another four months to get his next opportunity. He came on as a substitute against Hull City, impressing with his precise passing and calm on the ball.

After the match, Lampard commented, “I thought [he]was the best player on the pitch when he came on. I trust him.”

Gilmour made the permanent step up to the first team on February 11, with Lampard keen to work with him on a daily basis and get the most out of his skillset. Nevertheless, his baptism of fire came on March 3, in an FA Cup fixture against Liverpool.

Going up against the defending European champions, Gilmour once again excelled with his remarkable composure on the ball. Off of it, the 5’6” playmaker proved to be up to scratch, beating out Curtis Jones in duels and making a last-ditch interception to prevent a surefire goal from Sadio Mané. The icing on the cake came in the 86th minute; Gilmour nutmegged Fabinho and played a delightful through ball to Olivier Giroud, who hit the side-netting. Chelsea advanced to the quarterfinals, and Gilmour won the first man of the match award of his professional career.

With N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić injured and Jorginho suspended, Lampard handed Gilmour his first Premier League start against Everton, which had been enjoying a revival in form since Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment. Playing alongside the more attack-minded Ross Barkley and Mason Mount, Gilmour was tasked with not only dictating possession, but protecting the defense as well. Once again, he dazzled with the weight of his passing, his quick thinking under pressure, and his technique. Chelsea thumped Everton 4-0, and Gilmour picked up his second man of the match award of the week.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke has been more hesitant than Lampard to throw him into the deep end, with the Chelsea man still playing for the U-21s. However, if the Tartan Terriers do advance to their first major tournament in 22 years, Clarke may have no choice but to call him up for this summer’s Euros.

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