Billy Gilmour at Chelsea crossroads - could Rangers return benefit Scotland's young talisman?

It would be great to think that Billy Gilmour’s Chelsea career could really take flight after the 20-year-old gave Scotland wings at Wembley.

For  Billy Gilmour to embellish Scotland as he did at Wembley the Chelsea youngster needs regularly game time at club level. But the scant chance of that at Stamford Bridge means a long-season appears in the offing - though Graeme Souness see this as unnecessary. Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
For Billy Gilmour to embellish Scotland as he did at Wembley the Chelsea youngster needs regularly game time at club level. But the scant chance of that at Stamford Bridge means a long-season appears in the offing - though Graeme Souness see this as unnecessary. Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

Yet that hope has to butt against the challenges faced by the midfielder at the Champions League holders. Gilmour, currently self-isolating after catching Covid-19 to end his Euros even more prematurely than it concluded for his country without him against Croatia, may suddenly have become regarded as the most transformative performer in the national set-up. At Stamford Bridge, though, the young Scot is effectively sixth choice for a central midfield role. That is no slight on him when Tuchel can deploy Ballon d’Or tipped N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount, Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic. That really is what you call an embarrassment of riches. These mighty obstacles to involvement for Gilmour seem set to see him being sent out on a season-long loan deal. What he cannot do - especially if he is to be in a position to build on his England showing when Scotland face a must-not-lose World Cup qualifier in Denmark come September - is slip into the shadows.

Norwich City appear confident of being chosen as the club for Gilmour to continue his development, but Rangers have also been mentioned. A return to the Ibrox club that reared him has genuine merit. It could mean, under Steven Gerrard, Gilmour burnishing his abilities in the Champions League, and operating under the pressure of having to form the bedrock for winning displays each time he steps on to the pitch.

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Against that, English clubs do not see the Scottish football as a sufficiently testing environment for players to develop as required at the highest level. Furthermore, the Champions League play-off Rangers will hope to be involved in does not conclude until the final week of the transfer window. That probably comes too late for the Chelsea hierarchy to contemplate allowing Gilmour to head back north.

It might sound daft to say a player just out of his teens this month is at a career crossroads, yet he is. Scottish football icon Graeme Souness is in no doubt what should come next to ensure no regression in a talent possessing such frightening potential, but his pathway for Gilmour is a road he does not seem about to travel.

“I’d personally keep him at Chelsea,” he said. “I think Jorginho has to be looking over his shoulder. He’ll be challenging him more than anyone else. I look at Phil Foden at [Manchester] City and Pep [Guardiola] didn’t let him go out on loan. I look back on my own career and think how did I improve – there were no words of wisdom, no sentence any coach said, there was no watershed moment where I turned a corner. What made me better, I was 23, went to Liverpool, arguably the best team in the world, certainly the best team in Europe – and I was playing with fabulous players in training every single day. I learnt to think quicker, to improve my touch, move the ball quicker and just being around winners. Chelsea have got bundles of them, that will improve him more than playing in a lesser team where it’s a battle every week. That’s how I see it, Phil Foden is an argument for that.”

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