Chelsea’s avoidable loss is Brighton and Potter’s gain when it comes to brilliant Billy Gilmour

·7-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Brighton have bagged themselves a bargain in Billy. Chelsea didn’t really know what to do with the unlocking mechanism that is Gilmour.

 

Who’s this then?
Billy Clifford Gilmour is a 5ft 7in Scotsman from Irvine on the glorious Firth of Clyde, a town which also gifted Kris Boyd, Steven Naismith
and Erin Cuthbert to the nation, as well as two First Ministers and that fella out of Biffy Clyro.

Billy Gilmour was raised in Rangers’ youth academy (though was at Celtic for three months initially) where, despite being a slight wee
boy, he impressed with plenty of skill and close control. He played for the Under 20s when just 15 and was even given a first-team squad number.

Chelsea had heard that there was a distant northern land, even farther north than Northampton, where the fearsome indigenous tribes played something called ‘fitba’. And this Billy lad was very good at the fitba. So they left a big scrunched up pile of £20 notes. They said “take this £500,000, this useless paper, it is mere toilet paper to us,” in a suspiciously Russian accent. And aged just 16 he was a Chelsea player.

He spent a season in the Under 18s, did well and a year later signed his first pro contract. He won Chelsea Academy Player of the Year in 2020.

When Frank Lampard was installed as manager he saw Gilmour’s potential, saying: “He’s a promising player – I can’t understand a word he says though! – but seriously, the lad’s got talent,” or something similar.

He made his Premier League bow at the end of August 2019 and it was at this point that Mr Gilmour appeared on most of our radars, making 11 appearances that season and another 11 in the 2020-21 campaign.

Although he had made a few starts, nonetheless he impressed mightily. So mightily that he was called up by Stevie Clarke to play for Scotland in 2021, making 10 appearances that year and another five in 2022 so far. He’d been playing for the under-age teams since 2016 and had won various awards along the way, including the almost biblical ‘Revelation of the Tournament’ for his performance in the Toulon Tournament.

Consecutive man-of-the-match awards for his performances against Liverpool and Everton announced him as a big new star. Graeme Souness said: “He looks like a world class player.” He played with maturity and was one of those players who always seems to have time on the ball.

Billy Gilmour Credit: PA Images
Billy Gilmour Credit: PA Images

Although somewhat physically lightweight, he was tough and not intimidated by the big occasion. He was on the bench for the Blues’
Champions League final win over Manchester City and was again man of the match for Scotland in their Euros game against England, which he absolutely bossed from midfield.

It was very odd, then, that at the start of last season he found himself on loan at Norwich, pushed out the door by the haunted bag of twiglets that is Thomas Tuchel, who clearly didn’t fancy the boy.

Gilmour had a poor season in Norfolk, playing in a side that was determined to get relegated and return to the Championship with pockets full of cash.

It was clear that Gilmour was the sort of player who plays better with better players and he returned to Chelsea to find he had to train with the U23s; he didn’t even have a squad number.

With their transfer policy in disarray and good players being stockpiled in the reserves and with Tuchel looking increasingly desperate, it was a good time for Gilmour to exit.

By the time he was given a number, Brighton had cleverly come in for him. In easily one of the best and sensible moves of the transfer window, Graham Potter and his splendid sea captain’s beard quietly left £9m outside Tuchel’s door in a Lidl carrier bag, shouted ‘get in the van’ to Gilmour and took him to the south coast.

To get a player of such ability, aged 21 for such a paltry fee is remarkable, even taking into account the ‘well he’s Scottish’ discount which always seems to kick in. I’d wager if Billy was from, say, Belgium, he’d have cost a lot more. He’s a proven international, after all.

But it was great business for the player, Brighton and Potter. And also for Rangers who bagged themselves £1m via a sell-on clause for a player who never played a first team game for them. Sweet.

He couldn’t have joined a better club and will fit in perfectly to Potter’s style of play and of management.

 

Why the love?
Billy Gilmour. It’s a name that sounds like it belongs in the 1920s. Or perhaps Billy Gilmour would be the title of an ongoing story in a football comic about the ups and downs of a boy with magic in his boots. There is a rootsy honesty to the name and it rolls off the tongue and is a pleasure to say. That’s why he’s almost always referred to by his full name, I think.

Add to that the fact he has a somewhat innocent, big-eyed boyish look to him which belongs to a different, less cynical age than the one we’re dragging our sorry asses through right now, and you begin to see why he was always a fan favourite, if not a favourite of the comedic, spindly-legged German coach.

Pat Nevin has been praising Gilmour ever since he signed for Chelsea, seeing some parallels to his own career and has always made the point that although he might not be the biggest physical specimen, growing up in Scottish youth academies makes you tough and resilient. You have to be to survive.

It’s also true that for a player of his vision and skill, you need to be put into a team that will support that fact. At Norwich he looked like a lost soul, unable to play his natural game, but at Brighton, Potter will make the midfield revolve around him, probably playing him as a four, though he’d work well at the front of a diamond too, capable of playing a slide rule pass forward.

If football is a locked door – bear with me on this admittedly tortuous analogy – we notice the key in the lock, we notice the door is shut and we notice the handle. But we don’t really appreciate the mechanism inside the lock, without which the whole concept of a locked door fails.

Gilmour is the locking and unlocking mechanism. His role isn’t a glamorous one, rather it is to make others look good. But he’s also a disrupter, often underestimated due to his size and stature, but as tough as they come when you need someone to stick their foot in and dispossess the opposition. Great at running with the ball, along with the raking diag, the pin-sharp through ball, the dink into the channels – these are the colours he paints with.

 

Three great moments
A man-of-the-match performance:

Last man standing:

MOTM v England:

 

Future days?
Brighton play a quick, well-organised almost rhythmic passing game, with players always making themselves available. It will suit him
perfectly. He’s only played in 35 Premier League games so far and has already suffered some of the high and lows that football can dish out.

He will benefit from a more settled situation.

He has signed a four-year deal. Initially it was going to be a loan but Brighton already had a Chelsea loanee and you’re not allowed two from the same club apparently. But a permanent move suits Billy and Brighton better anyway. He can knuckle down and get some graft in without fear that the Blues will call him back to play a few games before they bench him again in favour of some very expensive flop – something which they seem very prone to do in recent years.

He will continue to be a pivotal part of Scotland’s push for qualification for the next Euros and it would be no surprise to see him captain the side in future years. He fell off the radar again last season when on loan in East Anglia so when he re-emerges as the talent he obviously is, it will be like seeing a new player break through. And we will enjoy saying ‘Billy Gilmour’ all over again.

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