There are few 16-year-olds who warrant a place in the under-21 squads of their national team. The performances of Billy Gilmour in the Chelsea youth set-up since his move from Rangers last summer meant it was impossible for Scot Gemmill to overlook the midfielder – who won’t turn 17 until June – when yesterday naming the players he will take to next month’s Toulon tournament.
Gilmour has been popping up regularly on the internet this season thanks to his happy knack of producing scintillating strikes. He made sure of another clip-fest this week when he speared in an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area to set Chelsea on their way to a 4-0 victory over Arsenal in Monday’s second leg of the Youth Cup final which they won 7-1 on aggregate.
There were fears that Gilmour would be gobbled up by the London club when departing Rangers at such a delicate stage in his career. Instead, he has feasted on all available opportunities to express his talents in the most exacting of environments.
Gemmill applauds that fact and believes it made the player’s case for stepping up to the under-21s overwhelming – even as he struggled to whittle down the growing number of choices available to him to the 20 he named in the squad he will take to the Cote d’Azur for a tournament Scotland excelled in last year with a semi-final appearance.
The under-21 manager says Gilmour is firmly in contention for starts in the games against Togo on 27 May and hosts France three days later before completing their group fixtures against South Korea on 2 June.
“You’d have to dig really deep to find anyone who didn’t agree on Billy’s potential. He’s so young that, even now, it’s still potential that we’re talking about,” Gemmill said.
“Nobody could predict whether he could continue his development so rapidly at such a big club, in a new environment. But his performances at Chelsea have consistently shown that he’s been able to do that.
“We’re all in agreement that he’s a real talent. He has incredible potential. By including him in this squad is our way of trying to help him, which is key for all the players. We’re trying to do the best for him. We recognise his potential and it’s our job to help him fulfil it.
“Billy doesn’t have a normal profile at his age because everyone up here is looking to see how he does at Chelsea. But he’s dealing with that expectation. He’s shown that in his performances.
“He’s been part of a very successful Chelsea youth team. But if you speak to people who know him – that’s the part no-one had any worries about. He’s not just a really talented footballer on the pitch, he matches that potential off the pitch as well with his attitude and ability to handle the situation he’s in.
“Coming to Toulon with us is a real opportunity for him. And we want to maximise the tournament from our point of view. In this group, 13 players can play in the next under-21 campaign, and the Toulon experience can help us with that. Billy’s a member of the squad so he has as much chance of playing as anyone else. We haven’t picked the team for the first game but he’s in the squad on merit. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Gemmill also welcomes the fact that the three group games in Toulon will give Scotland the opportunity to play against teams from three confederations in Africa, Europe and Asia. All are different challenges, he says. Gilmour has faced up to any he has been given this season.