He may only be 16 years old, but Scotland Under-17 captain Billy Gilmour has already learned the value of perspective.
The Chelsea playmaker knows there will be ups and downs for him and his team-mates along the way as they look to build careers in the professional game.
So while he’s disappointed that a second Elite Round defeat – a loss to Norway following the opening defeat to hosts Greece – means there will be no finals appearance this summer in England, he knows the lessons they’ve learned along the way will stand them in good stead.
As a group you’ve not had to deal with many setbacks. You’re used to winning. So what went through your heads after suffering a rare loss?
We’ve not been used to losing. We lost a friendly to France recently but that was with a much-changed team. That’s been about it. We were disappointed but the heads didn’t stay down for long.
Brian McLaughlin has been very complimentary about the mentality of the Under-17 squad and how brave you’ve been in sticking to your philosophy instead of abandoning it to chase a result. How do you see it?
I agree with that. We stick to our game-plan because that’s what has brought this group of players success over the last couple of years. We know we are at our best when we play the ball on the deck. There were things we could have done better in that opening game against Greece – like not switching off collectively to concede a soft goal – but the problem wasn’t the game-plan. Brian’s message, consistently, has been that we should look to impose our style of play on teams and dominate the midfield. I always thought that we would bounce back.
It does seem to be a close-knit squad. What do you put that down to?
We’re so close. I’d say we’re more like a family than a squad of footballers. It’s been good having the likes of Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane back involved so the bulk of the group is together, though we’re all gutted Dean Campbell’s missed out through injury as he’s popular within the squad and played a big part in the qualifiers. There is just a good vibe when we all get together – with the music blaring and plenty of singing. Jamie Semple and Marc Leonard fancy themselves as the performers. They’re not the worst, to be fair. I think one of the main reasons for us being so tight is the Performance School system, because we played together in festivals throughout the year and the teams were always mixed. That’s where the bond developed. I think Terry Taylor’s a good example of that. He played for Wales for a short spell but was welcomed back into the Scotland squad with nothing said about it. Outside of football we all spend time together in Glasgow or wherever. It’s never dull.
You’ll see a bit less of the other boys now you’re down at Chelsea. You’re still early on in your career there but how has it been so far?
I’m really, really enjoying it. I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent at Rangers because so many people worked so hard to help me improve as a player – just like they did within my Performance School. But I do feel as if I’m improving all the time. Chelsea provide you with a million different ways to develop on and off the pitch but I think the key thing is that you have to make the most of it. Nothing is laid out on a plate for you. You have to earn it and prove yourself every day. The facilities are there for us to use – between coaches, gym instructors, physios and sports scientists. I make sure to do a lot of simple stretching work to prevent injuries. One of my aims was also to get stronger, so they gave me an individual gym programme to follow. You have to put the work in but it’s worth it.
Your coach, Jody Morris, practically became an adopted Scot after a successful spell as a player with St Johnstone. How influential has he been?
Jody’s like Brian McLaughlin in that he has a really clear idea of how he wants us to play at Chelsea – by getting the ball down. He’s great and joins in regularly with sessions. You can see just from that what a good player he was and Jody speaks highly of his time up in Scotland. He invites people like Frank Lampard and John Terry in to help with training or talk to us and it’s great to hear from people like that and learn from their experiences. We’ve just won the Premier League Cup and are still in with a chance of winning another three competitions, so this is an important time for club and country.
Scotland Under-21 new-boy Harvey St Clair was singing your praises and mentioned the impact you’d made in a short space of time in London. What’s been your highlight so far?
I love Harvey. He’s one of the people who has helped me settle in so well. I knew of him before I went down there because he’d been in a couple of the Scotland squads, then we were together in a few UEFA Youth League squads. I travelled to Madrid as an unused squad member for the older team. I’ve trained with the first team a couple of times and that was an amazing experience. You’re dealing with some of the best players in the world but they go out of their way to make you feel welcome. Seeing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard up close was unreal. They already know where their next pass is going before they receive the ball. Every pass is meaningful and not just played for the sake of it. The other thing that sticks out is the speed that they do everything in and the accuracy that goes with it. I think I’ve definitely improved by exposure to playing with and against older boys. I can’t really speak any higher of the lengths Chelsea have gone to with me.
Finally, what have you taken away so far from the Euros Elite Round?
I know Brian’s already touched on it, but little things like the facilities and pitches maybe haven’t been the best. Stuff like that can put you off your stride but I suppose that in itself is part of the learning curve. You have to be able to deal with it and adapt without it influencing how you want to play too much. Wherever we all go on to play in our careers – with our clubs and Scotland – we’ll have to deal with all sorts of environments so that’s something that springs to mind. In the short-term, we just want to finish the Elite Round on a high.
Scotland 0, Greece 1, Wednesday 21 March, kick-off 4pm (local time), Pampeloponnisiako, Patras
Scotland 1, Norway 2, Saturday 24 March, kick-off 12pm (local time), Pampeloponnisiako, Patras
Scotland v Germany, Tuesday 27 March, kick-off 3pm (local time), Papacharalambeio Ethniko Stadio Nafpaktou, Nafpaktos
Ryan Mullen (Celtic)
Archie Mair (Aberdeen)
Taylor Wilson (Hamilton) PS
Nathan Patterson (Rangers) PS
Chris Hamilton (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Kane O’Connor (Hibernian)
Jack Armer (Preston North End)
Lewis Gordon (Watford)
Harrison Ashby (West Ham)
Ethan Erhahon (St Mirren) PS
Billy Gilmour (Chelsea) PS
Terry Taylor (Wolverhampton Wanderers) PS
Ethan Ross (Aberdeen) PS
Harry Cochrane (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Marc Leonard (Heart of Midlothian) PS
Jamie Semple (Motherwell) PS
Adedapo Mebude (Rangers) PS
Aaron Pressley (Aston Villa)
Aidan Fitzpatrick (Partick Thistle)
Anthony McDonald (Hearts) PS
PS - denotes Performance School player