Billy Gilmour: Inside the rise of Chelsea and Scotland's 'new Modric'

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With Chelsea coming under increasing pressure to hold out for victory against Sheffield United in their last Premier League outing, it was telling that the player Frank Lampard elected to bring off his bench was an 18-year-old with no prior first-team experience.

It obviously strengthens Lampard's argument that he will be the manager who finally makes the most of the Blues' burgeoning academy talents, even if his hands have been tied somewhat by the club's transfer ban.

But it also illustrates the high regard in which Billy Gilmour is held in west London, and though his late introduction could not stop the newly promoted Blades from grabbing a late equaliser, he was hardly to blame.

The Scotland Under-21 international's six-minute cameo merely offered few glimpses of his much-touted technical ability, but then, as someone who has studied former Blue Cesc Fabregas closely and been previously likened to Luka Modric, it will come as little shock that he is a midfielder who possesses a rare eye for a pass.

Few Chelsea youngsters break into the club's first team without having previously spent time out on loan in the modern era, with only Callum Hudson-Odoi taking the path straight from youth football to the Stamford Bridge stage in recent times.

Given the fight that the club put up to sign Gilmour, though, it is hardly surprising that he is being given every opportunity to state his claim for regular minutes.

Both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were all reportedly keen on signing Gilmour from Rangers as a 15-year-old in the spring of 2017. Chelsea eventually won the race, completing the deal on his 16th birthday in June of that year as they paid what Goal understands to be a record fee for a player of his age.

Rangers had hoped to be able to fast-track Gilmour into their own first team on account of his rapid development within the Scottish Football Association's Performance School initiative.

James Grady coached Gilmour from the age of 12 as part of the programme and it was there that the youngster's unique ability first came to light.

"He knows he doesn’t need to beat five players to look good," Grady told Goal. "Billy understood it was better to be good than look good at a very early age.

Billy Gilmour GFXGetty/Goal

"I describe him as a Modric-type player. He isn’t very big but he is technically as good as anyone with both feet. He has a tenacious side, he won’t overcomplicate things. He can dribble when he has to, he sees passes and he will get it and keep it until he can find a better pass.

"The biggest talent that he has got is that drive and real hunger to be the best. I have worked in football since I was 20 years old. I am 48 now. He is the role model I would still use if you want to get anywhere in football. He is hard-working, nothing is going to stop him. 

"He came back to the school after he signed for Chelsea. He did a Q&A and one kid asked him, ‘How was the jump from Rangers to Chelsea?’

"He said, 'At Rangers, my mindset was I wanted to be the best at my team and club. I want to be the best here. I went to Chelsea, I am now in an environment at Chelsea where I need to try to be the best in the world. Not the best in the club because Chelsea can sign the best young players from all over the world.'"

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Scotland have already begun to reap the benefits of that attitude, with Gilmour shining during the 2018 Toulon Tournament despite being a 16-year-old playing at Under-21 level. He was named Revelation of the Tournament as Scotland secured a fourth-placed finish in France despite being among the three youngest players in the competition.

Back at Chelsea, their main area of concern regarding Gilmour, who stands at 5'6", and his potential to play senior football, has been his slight physique, with Blues coaches looking to ensure he is fully ready for the intensity of the men's game before making him a staple of Lampard's squad.

Though his ability on the ball cannot be questioned, he has also been encouraged to watch videos of former Blues schemer Fabregas in a bid to further his understanding of the role Chelsea see him filling in the coming years.

Billy Gilmour quote GFXGetty Images

"As a fellow midfielder, I look up to Cesc Fabregas," the teenager told Chelsea TV in December 2017. "I have been analysing him and putting the things from his game into my game, so overall I can make myself much better as a midfielder."

Gilmour has demonstrated a silky first touch, excellent vision, high intelligence and a keen eye for goal throughout his early career, while he is looking to become a set-piece specialist too as he works on improving his delivery from corners and shooting on free-kicks.

Nine goals and six assists in 32 games in youth football last season underlined his potential, with Lampard showing an awareness of Gilmour's supreme talent by naming the teenager on the bench for the UEFA Super Cup clash with Liverpool in August before handing him his Premier League debut three weeks later.

It was announced on Thursday that he has signed a new four-year deal that will keep him with the club until 2023, and if he maintains his current progress that is unlikely to be the final contract improvement he receives in the coming years.

For now, to make it in the game at the top level you need an element of luck. Given everything going on around Chelsea, this may be the best time in more than a decade to be an 18-year-old midfielder looking for first-team chances at Stamford Bridge.