For both club and country, Billy Gilmour has had a bright start to the season. There is a real propensity for nasty behavior in football. In a game that strives to be beautiful, there are moments – all too frequent – when it reveals an ugly, vicious desire for injustice. Ask Billy Gilmour, for example.
The small midfielder, who more than a little bit like a junior pat nevin lookalike contest winner, had a breakthrough performance at Euro 2020 a couple of summers ago. He did, at least, until his breakout failed. A Covid test result was sufficient.
to remove him from Scotland’s key group stage match against Croatia, and shortly after, Steve Clarke’s team was abruptly eliminated from the draw. Would the Tartan Army’s march have continued if Gilmour hadn’t gotten caught up in a virus-related mess? It might not have helped, but it wouldn’t have hurt either.
Gilmour had begun to display some of the qualities that had made him such a highly regarded prospect in Chelsea’s academy system in the two games before; he released incisive passes, he disrupted opposition flows with cerebral calm, and he glided across the field like an ink blue air hockey puck. England was the country that was most affected by his influence.
It is simple to poke fun at the 0-0 stalemate between the two obnoxious neighbors that night at Wembley; call it a Scottish victory for the sake of cheap jabs or wonder if it adequately softened the exit at the first opportunity. But in actuality, the visitors put on a remarkably tough and obstinate performance that was heavily reliant on Gilmour’s impressionable impact.
No player on the field gained possession of the ball more regularly in the middle of the field, and only one other player consistently did so in the defensive third. He completed 40 passes, 22 of which came
His overall pass completion rate dropped just short of 91% in England’s half. This was a brilliant performance by pretty much all standards, or at least the ones that matter; the kind that sparkles with a revelatory promise.
And of course, the surprises in all their guises followed. Before the dust could really settle, Gilmour was hustled out to Brighton for a sum of roughly £8 million after Covid struck, a loan stint with Norwich City never really took off, and the situation was resolved. At the time, it seemed like a great deal, but now it looks like a complete bargain.
The Scot took some time to settle, even on the south shore. Only half of his 14 Premier League outings during his first season at the Amex occurred after the opening bell. But as the times have changed, Gilmour’s importance has increased. The 22-year-old (and it feels rather odd that he is still so young) has established himself as a regular component in Roberto De Zerbi’s engine room without Moises Caicedo looming over him. After an opening-day cameo, four games have produced three starts, and there are indications that
The midfielder is gradually slipping into a renaissance. De Zerbi’s persistent faith would suggest that he sees huge things in Gilmour’s near future. Only center-back Jan Paul van Hecke, whose name sounds like an accident-prone action movie star, has achieved a higher average pass completion rate this term.
It appears that his national team boss concurs as well. The most recent of these appearances was a pair of full caps in the center of midfield. Clarke has used the Albion talent in each of Scotland’s previous three European Championship qualification games. In other words, it seems more and more like Gilmour’s time is now.
However, if you had questioned any member of the England team following that scoreless match at Wembley, they most likely would have informed you that his moment had already come two summers prior. The Three Lions will be leery of Gilmour as a result, though arguably with greater justification now than ever.