It’s likely Billy Gilmour will remember Euro 2020 differently to most Scots. While Scottish fans will look back at the tournament with disappointment after crashing out in the group stage, the 20-year-old will recall the moment he truly announced himself at the elite level of the sport.
Gilmour only played one match for Scotland at Euro 2020, but it came against England at Wembley, where he was hailed for a sparkling Man of the Match performance. There was disappointment for Gilmour on an individual level too as he was ruled out of Scotland’s do-or-die clash Croatia with Covid-19, but his stock had already soared by then.
A loan switch to Norwich City has since followed, with Gilmour set to spend the 2021/22 season working under Daniel Farke. This will see the 20-year-old receive more game time than would have been the case at parent club Chelsea, the theory being that this will accelerate his development.
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There is, however, a lot of risk attached to Chelsea’s decision to loan out one of their best young prospects. While Farke’s methods and view of the game would appear to suit Gilmour’s skill set as a diminutive, ball-playing pass master, circumstances could change should Norwich find themselves in a relegation scrap.
Indeed, a managerial change, the likes of which can happen near the foot of the Premier League table, could leave Gilmour exposed to any replacement favouring a more direct approach. Farke himself could change his style if he feels Norwich need more steel to avoid the drop.
While loan moves worked for Reece James and Mason Mount, who both spent spells in the Championship before becoming key figures at Stamford Bridge, Gilmour’s physical profile means he requires better care through the formative years of his career. The Scot has the potential to be one of the best in the world, but he needs to be in the right environment.
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At Chelsea, Gilmour found himself in an elite level environment playing alongside elite level teammates. What’s more, he had impressed in the first team when given the opportunity, starting a number of games in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup last season.
Is Gilmour really more likely to force his way into the Chelsea first team on the back of a season of first team football at Norwich City than if he’d continued impressing in his role as a fringe figure? How much stock will Chelsea, and Thomas Tuchel, put in the performances of a player operating in the bottom half of the Premier League?
Chelsea should have followed the example set by Manchester City in their cultivation of Phil Foden. They too faced calls to loan out the diminutive midfielder, but instead kept him at the Etihad Stadium to steep him in the ideas and methods of Pep Guardiola. This decision paid off with Foden, now a world class operator, much better for having stayed at City.
By leaving Stamford Bridge, Gilmour has allowed another player to fill his spot in Tuchel’s squad. By the time he returns to Chelsea next summer, the young midfielder could find he has been knocked even further down the pecking order. This is the game Gilmour has taken by going out on loan.
Gilmour has the ability to succeed at Norwich City. It’s important he is staying in the Premier League, where he will have the chance to test himself against the best. But the 20-year-old was already doing that every day at Chelsea. The brilliance of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount and others was rubbing off on the Scot. That won’t happen at Carrow Road.
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