For most of us, our teenage years pass with experiences we’d much rather forget, including eruptions, hormones, puppy love, and regrettable fashion choices.
Not for Billy Gilmour. The Chelsea midfielder, nicknamed the Scottish Iniesta, turns 20 on Friday. In recent weeks, he was included in the Scottish squad for the European Championship, won the Champions League and made his international debut. And when it comes to fashion, he was a Burberry model.
It was on May 19 when Gilmour’s phone pinged with a message from an unknown number. “Congratulations, you’ve been selected,” it read. Gilmour, unsure, called his agent to confirm that, yes, he had just been selected into the Scottish squad for the European Championship. Only then did he call his parents.
Billy Gilmour, who recently made his Scotland debut, could be key for his country this summer
Ten days later, Gilmour was a Champions League winner, an unused substitute when Chelsea beat Manchester City. He ended the evening with a winner’s medal and photos of him lifting the trophy. It seemed almost as big as him.
He also made his debut in Scotland, coming off the bench for the last 10 minutes of their warm-up game against the Netherlands. Scotland open their first major tournament since Gilmour was born against the Czech Republic on Monday.
Those who have been at the heart of Gilmour’s development know that he will be ready to shine.
Gilmour received a Champions League winners’ medal with Chelsea and is a fantastic prospect
“I don’t think I’m going on one foot when I say he’s the most exciting young player Scotland has produced in a generation,” said Malky Mackay, the former Watford and Cardiff boss who oversaw Gilmour’s development as performance director. . at the Scottish FA.
‘I have managed top players, played against them. I’m always aware of building players, I get that. But for those who know him, he’s the real deal.’
It was Mackay and his coaches who singled out Gilmour, then 16 years old, to attend the Toulon Tournament, an Under-21 competition. By the end, he had scored against South Korea, captaining the team in the play-off for third place and being named Best Breakthrough Player.
Gilmour grew up in Ardrossan, a town on the North Ayrshire coast. His father, Billy Snr, was a prominent junior footballer, the Scottish non-League equivalent. Gilmour attended Grange Academy in Kilmarnock, a Scottish FA performance school, and joined Rangers Academy at the age of eight.
What Gilmour lacks in years and stature, he has always made up for in his heart with his 1.80m. He chose to learn Mandarin in school instead of the usual French or Spanish. And he has even told his more experienced teammates that he is coming for them at the European Championship.
With England and Croatia in Scotland’s group, Gilmour could face Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Mason Mount and Mateo Kovacic.
The midfielder can take on Chelsea team-mates including Ben Chilwell (left) and Mason Mount (center) when Scotland plays against England
“I’ve had some comments with the England players and then Croatia with Kovacic,” Gilmour said. “So I just told them that if I play I’m going to do well with you, you don’t get any time.”
Rangers Academy director Craig Mulholland recalls the time they put 14-year-old Gilmour in a senior reserve game against Dundee.
“He played against guys in their thirties,” Mulholland says. “They’ve seen this young, skinny boy. We cringed in the stands, wondering if we’d done the right thing. He walked onto the field as if he thought he should be there. He didn’t solve a problem for himself.’
Malky Mackay, who worked at the Scottish FA, says Gilmour is the country’s best prospect for a generation
Gilmour was also sent off in another reserve game against Hibs for a challenge on an older player. Mulholland laughs: ‘We just loved his fire and passion.’
It was last season against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup that Harry Maguire tried to force himself on Gilmour and grabbed him by the throat. “He said I’m a little boy,” Gilmour says. “I won’t let that happen again.”
Both Mackay and Mulholland talk about Gilmour’s humility, as if he were signing his first Chelsea contract in a shirt and tie. Or having pictures of his loved ones on his shin guards.
Comparing to former Spurs player Christian Eriksen, Mackay added: “From the moment he started to get good thighs and calves, you started to see how he could get around the pitch. Height or size does not matter. He ticked every box.’
And he continues to do so. The next will be in a few days when Scotland kicks off their first major tournament in a generation with their most exciting talent from this one helping their hopes come true.