The game was only seconds old when Billy Gilmour delivered a challenge on Mason Mount that screamed out the difference between being friends at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground and footballing enemies 20 miles up the road inside Wembley Stadium.
A full Scotland debut, just a week after turning 20, and the message was clear: Gilmour might have been anchoring a midfield that was often outnumbered but there was no way that he would be intimidated by arguably Scotland’s biggest match for 25 years.
And he did predominantly get through a frenetic opening 10 minutes on courage, work-rate and effort. But then the pace of the game dipped, Gilmour caught his breath, and we saw why everyone from Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard to N’Golo Kante and Thomas Tuchel has tipped him for stardom.
Gilmour is described most often as a holding midfielder but what was noticeable, and especially in comparison with England’s laboured passing, was his class and composure on the ball. He was dictating the tempo against far more experienced opponents and, for a five minute period shortly before half-time, Scotland kept the ball well enough to tempt their fans into shouts of “olé”. Gilmour was behind much of this football and, for any neutral, it was a joy to watch. It was also a potentially alluring glimpse into Scotland’s future.
Graeme Souness, himself a midfield enforcer who was often underestimated in possession, called Gilmour “a maestro...and the best midfield player on the pitch”. He completed 40 out of 44 attempted passes, often from the most congested and pressurised central areas. “Nothing fazes him - I believe he can have as many caps as he wants for Scotland,” said the captain Andy Robertson.
Whatever now happens during the rest of these European Championships, it was certainly a performance to strengthen the sense that Scotland now finally do have the youthful foundation of a team that could again qualify regularly for major tournaments.
Significantly, Gilmour was not simply developed by Chelsea and, like Robertson and Kieran Tierney, spent his formative years playing in Scotland.
His next step will be crucial. Lampard predicted that Gilmour will be “a huge player” for Chelsea and he did indeed enjoy something of a breakthrough in 2019-20 when he made his senior debut and then played 11 games. Yet while Chelsea soared under Tuchel last season, Gilmour remained understandably peripheral and again played only 11 senior games. He was competing for midfield minutes with two of the best in Europe in Kante and Jorginho. He had also undergone surgery the previous summer on his knee. But, for his own personal development, it was still not enough.
Regular playing time is what Gilmour now needs and, despite having actually outshone Mount for much of this game, the example of his club-mate should heavily influence his thinking.
Mount had the good sense and counsel around him to know the value of senior minutes and his 83 games and 25 goals across two seasons at Vitesse Arnhem and then Derby County between 2017 and 2019 were utterly invaluable to his progression.
A lack of regular club football, and thus peak match fitness ultimately explained Gilmour’s substitution after 76 minutes here but, on the earlier evidence, he will be a feature of this Scotland team for the next decade or more.