Gilmour's journey to the top was 'written in the stars'
- Credit: PA
When Billy Gilmour was a member of the Rangers academy, the fact his kit was baggy or his lack of height would have been enough to put off several clubs.
But as soon as he took his place in the centre of the park, he was intent on making it his own. That warrior streak is something that has stayed with him throughout his progression to the Chelsea first-team and was even visible during his man of the match display against England at the Euros.
“When I watch him now, he just looks like he did when he was younger and he just used to dominate that position all the time," says Ricky Waddell, Gilmour's former U16 coach at Rangers.
During the course of a half an hour chat, Waddell recites an anecdote about Gilmour putting a rogue trialist in his place in the dressing room. The over-eager youngster was looking to inflict a few blows onto his potential teammates before Gilmour verbally put him in his place.
Players from Ayrshire are often willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. His height has created a misconception that he quickly puts to bed through his performances on the pitch.
Waddell admits to feeling challenged by Gilmour, not in a negative sense, but the now Caledonian Brave head coach was forced to up his own levels to test the 20-year-old's ability. In a very talented age group born in 2001, the midfielder was the obvious standout.
In youth football, nothing is ever guaranteed and Gilmour still had plenty of work to do before he could consider himself a top player.
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For Gilmour, his pathway was seemingly written in the stars according to Waddell, who has also played a part in the development of Liverpool captain Andrew Robertson.
“With Billy, I always thought he was different in that regard because you see other players, I was fortunate enough to work with Andy Robertson at Queens Park when he was a young player, if we’re honest, we definitely didn’t think he would go on to have the career he has. His next step at that time was to get into Queens Park’s first-team.
“You always hear of those stories about those young players who are phenomenal when they are young. In that 2001 age group, we had some brilliant players. Billy was obviously one of those but he was one that we always thought, speaking to the coaching staff at the time, he just had that something different.
“The way he played, for example in the game against England and the way he’s played for Chelsea, is the way we would see him play for the U15s or U16s for Rangers.
“Regardless of who he was playing against, he would dominate and just be a step ahead of everyone. We always knew he had that star quality but in youth football, you never know. For Billy, I think it was almost written in the stars that he was going to be a top player.
“He’s still got the next phase to go. He has got to kick on now. Hopefully, he will do that.”
When Chelsea came calling, along with a host of other top English clubs, Gilmour was thrust into the spotlight at Rangers Training Centre as coaches and players of all ages hounded him with questions surrounding his immediate future.
Waddell confesses to developing a real admiration for his response to those who demanded answers. When enthusiasm for football drives your life, the other bits take a backseat inside your mind. That certainly applies to Gilmour, who refused to let his feet leave the ground. They are still planted there even after gaining a Champions League winners medal aged 20.
Instead of letting the external noise affect his performances, Gilmour continued to perform for his boyhood club. Much has been made of his height, but the 20-year-old has used his slight frame to his advantage.
Against Liverpool in his senior debut, Fabinho found it near on impossible to dispossess him. Waddell believes the tools he has as a player made him the stand out player for Rangers in a supremely talented age group.
"They’ve got to have all the ingredients that make a young professional player but Billy technically was superior at the time. He had the tools to get himself out of any situation within a game. You see him in tight situations and think he’s under pressure but he will work his way out of it.
“His mentality was the main thing. He always had that mental strength regardless of who he was playing or what the situation was. He’s just a very level headed lad off the park but on the park, ultimately he was a winner and he had that winning mentality.
“There’s also a quiet confidence about him, but he was never arrogant. People talk about his physicality and that’s one area where I have seen a big difference. He’s obviously not a tall guy, and he never was – he's always been playing against taller players, but he’s added that power and strength to his game.
“When I say he’s a step ahead, he just played as if there was a camera on top of his head. That game awareness, vision and the ability to not only see pictures but to process that information before executing the pass, cross or shot. That’s what being a step ahead is.”
His performances for Rangers' U16s were beginning to grab the attention of coaches higher up the age group.
Experienced pro Kenny Miller came to Waddell to probe about Gilmour's talents early on before ex-Gers boss Mark Warburton invited him to train alongside the first-team at the age of 15.
After the now QPR boss left Ibrox, interim manager and ex-City academy coach Graeme Murty handed him a squad number and named him in a few provisional squads for Scottish Cup matches.
Such an experience could have proved daunting for a young player at such an early junction of their footballing career, but it didn't faze Gilmour.
“I always remember speaking to Kenny Miller when Billy was just starting to make his way into first-team training every now and again. Mark Warburton was the manager.
“I spoke to Kenny and a few of the other staff about just how good this young player is. When you see Billy, he does look very young, even now. The perception of a young player going into a first-team environment could be different for those players already in there thinking ‘how good is he going to be?’
“As soon as the ball started to roll, he was getting touches and I think everybody could see how good a player that he was.”
Nothing is decided. Gilmour won't settle for the position he currently finds himself in. The Scot has made little secret of his ambition to become a Premier League winner in the future and it's a relentless pursuit that doesn't look like easing up.
His loan spell at Norwich is merely the next step, one he will be hoping to grasp with both hands.