To say Billy Gilmour is living the dream is putting it mildly.
The 16-year-old playmaker has taken a move from Rangers to Chelsea in his stride – quickly becoming an influential member of an Under-18s team that racked up four trophies over the course of last season.
Billy’s progress was rewarded with a first-ever call-up to the Scotland Under-21 squad for the prestigious Toulon tournament – making him the first Scottish FA JD Performance School graduate to make the step up to that level.
For all he is a young man who clearly loves the game and can be seen juggling a ball at every opportunity in between drills in training, he is also blessed with a steely determination to make the most of every opportunity that comes his way.
Billy, you’ve had quite the year! What was your reaction to a first Scotland Under-21 call-up?
I was so happy as it came completely out of the blue. I love coming away with Scotland, no matter what age-group it is, and I was proud to captain the Under-17s at the Elite Round recently. Even pulling the badge on during training is amazing. Words can’t describe how proud I feel to represent Scotland. I will always turn up to play for my country. Obviously you have to work hard and impress your club side on a day to day basis, because that’s what earns you international recognition, but it’s an honour to play for Scotland and go up against the best that every nation has to offer.
Over the moon to be selected for the 21s😅⚽️🏴 https://t.co/umliXx0ZqA— Billy Gilmour (@billygilmourrr) May 3, 2018
Before we talk about your development in the blue of Chelsea, what are your long-term ambitions in the dark blue of Scotland?
At senior level it’s obviously been a long time since we’ve qualified for a tournament but I see that as an exciting opportunity for the younger players coming through to change that. We can write our own little bit of history and make the country proud. The aim for every one of us has to be to strive to play for the full side and, ultimately, help them qualify for the European Championships or World Cup. It would mean everything to do that for Scotland. Given how long it’s been, I think it would be a career highlight for any player involved. I honestly think, with the people coming through, that we’re going to change things. You see amazing scenes in these tournaments when smaller countries like Northern Ireland and Wales qualify and we want a taste of that ourselves.
First things first, you’ll want to maintain your rise through the ranks at Chelsea. How has you first year at Stamford Bridge been?
It’s been incredible. Initially, after moving down from Rangers, I just wanted to settle in and try to get into the team. It happened quite quickly for me, having made my debut and scored against Arsenal. Everything went from there and we won four trophies, so the challenge is to top that.
It was a big change from what you were used to off the pitch as well as on it. How did you handle that transition?
My family come down to all my home games and Chelsea are good at giving us free time to come home, so I’m back for a weekend every two to three weeks. I like to come up and watch my little brother, Harvey, play. It’s been easy to settle in and boys like Harvey St Clair – who is obviously in Toulon with me – have looked out for me. Being away lets me concentrate on the football. On an average day I’m in at 9am for breakfast and we’ll maybe train from 10.30am-12pm. We’ll have lunch, do some gym work and finish for the day around 3.30pm.
As a boyhood Rangers supporter, was it a difficult decision to make?
It was a big decision and I spent a lot of time thinking about it, but my ambition was always to play in the English Premier League. I thought I had to give it a shot and so far it’s been amazing. I love Rangers and will always be grateful for everything they did for me. Guys like Kenny Miller, Lee Wallace and Wes Foderingham treated me really well. But when I saw Chelsea’s development plan for me I just couldn’t turn it down. My aim has always been to play at the best level I could, to play ahead of my age and get the best coaching I can. Everyone is different and I look at my friend, Harry Cochrane, who is doing very well already in the first team at Hearts. People say I could have played already or sooner in the first team at Rangers but I’m not there yet. If I tried to match up to Scott Brown at the moment he would bully me in a full game because he’s the best midfielder, by far, in Scotland. Technically I might be okay but, from a physical point of view at the moment, I would have no chance. So if I wasn’t ready to play for Rangers at that point then I had to think about how I would develop.
What have been some of the stand-out experiences at Chelsea so far?
I’ve trained with the first team twice and love watching Cesc Fabregas play. That’s the level I would like to get to. One of the sessions was in preparation for a match and other was a harder session, so that was a great experience. I’ve also worked with Frank Lampard. As a coach he’s been amazing with me – a great help.
So what’s next?
My idea was to play another year at Under-18 level but, from this season, the plan seems to be for me to push into the Under-23 squad and hopefully the UEFA Youth League one. If I develop enough physically maybe I could eventually look at going out on loan or making the leap to first-team football. Getting the call for the Scotland Under-21s has been an eye-opener in that regard because boys like Greg Taylor have a lot of first-team football under their belts. So it’s been great to test myself at that standard. I’m trying to build myself up. I don’t want to be massive. It’s just about adding strength to my legs. I get around the pitch well as it is and cover an average of 13k for Chelsea in games. They work hard on that side of things. The gym and physio work is individualised so everything is about you being the best player you can be.
Despite all that you’re still a regular at your old Scottish FA Performance School, Grange Academy in Kilmarnock.
My wee brother goes there and works under James Grady. I go up to see them as much as I can and sometimes I’ll join in with the first years training. I don’t go easy on them! Harvey’s 12 years old and I know how much he loves training there.
Ross Doohan (Celtic)
Robby McCrorie (Rangers)
Daniel Harvie (Aberdeen)
Jason Kerr (St Johnstone)
Chris Hamilton (Heart of Midlothian)
Ryan Porteous (Hibernian)
Anthony Ralston (Celtic)
Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)
Iain Wilson (Kilmarnock)
Liam Burt (Rangers)
Allan Campbell (Motherwell)
Billy Gilmour (Chelsea)
Fraser Hornby (Everton)
Glenn Middleton (Rangers)
Harvey St Clair (Chelsea)
Elliot Watt (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Oliver Burke (West Bromwich Albion)
Michael Johnston (Celtic)
Craig Wighton (Dundee)
Scott Wright (Aberdeen)
Group A: China, England, Mexico, Qatar
Group B: France, Scotland, South Korea, Togo
Group C: Canada, Japan, Portugal, Turkey
Scotland 1 Togo 1, Stade de Lattre, Aubagne
Scotland v France, Wednesday 30 May, kick-off 6.30pm (UK time), Stade D’Honneur, Salon (Watch via Facebook Live – Free Sports UK)
Scotland v South Korea, Saturday 2 June, kick-off 2pm (UK time), Stade Parsemain, Fos-Sur-Mer (Live on Free Sports UK)
*Schedule subject to change depending on broadcaster's preferences.
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