This article was originally published in March 2020
When the Chelsea team for their FA Cup match against Liverpool was released and 18-year-old Billy Gilmour was in the starting line-up the reaction was almost comfortingly predictable.
- Willian and Barkley help Chelsea knock Liverpool out of cup
- Lampard on Gilmour: What an incredible performance!
By and large it was nearly all positive. Journalists and former pros raved about another member of Chelsea’s prodigious academy getting a chance on the big stage whilst Blues fans, so long deprived of watching ‘one of their own’ positively swooned even if we are less than three years removed from ‘one of their own’ Gilmour swapping Glasgow blue for that of London.
Of course there was a small minority who, for some inexplicable reason, seemed to be upset at Lampard’s apparent pandering to the fans by putting in players who are not ready. Presumably these are descendants of the chap who belittled Harry Redknapp for selecting a young Lampard in his West Ham team, only to be completely put in his place.
The shirt of Billy Gilmour of Chelsea is displayed in the dressing room prior to the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on March 03, 2020 in London, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
In spite of the small group of grumblers Gilmour more than lived up to the hype with an astonishingly composed performance in the centre of the Chelsea midfield that belied both his years and slight stature. He glided around the middle of the pitch with ease, popping little passes off before setting off, picking the ball up and starting the process all over again.
In fact the way he read the game and threw himself into tackles was in the mould of two other diminutive Stamford Bridge favourites; Claude Makelele and N’Golo Kante.
See, there we go again, feeding the machine.
Of course it was no surprise to anyone to see journalists (guilty), commentators and fans practically fall over themselves to heap the praise on Gilmour, stopping just short of anointing him as the chosen one.
Gilmour’s utterly audacious late nutmeg, sending Fabinho into the shadow realm, will of course only add to the train of hype on which we all must jump.
But he is still just 18, it feels so important not to get carried away. Now more than ever there seem to be more and more players of whom you hear people saying ‘oh do you remember when they were the next big thing, whatever happened to them?’ It is a sad but harsh reality thanks to the constant news cycle that has been perpetuated by social media and has seemingly taken over our lives.
Gilmour was mostly excellent tonight, but a couple of times he was shown up by Adam Lallana of all people, a player who Liverpool have already decided that they will not be offering a contract to and will allow to leave on a free.
This is not designed to dig Gilmour out or to try to pick holes in his performance, far from it in fact.
It is only natural he will make those mistakes but we as a collective have to be willing to let him make those mistakes.
That means the journalists (again, guilty) who will laud him with their words, the Chelsea fans who will start calling him the Scottish Fabregas, and the opposition fans who will conversely try to destroy him the minute he makes a mistake.
After all this is still a FA Cup clash against the champions-elect, it’s a massive litmus test that he has passed with flying colours.
Billy Gilmour of Chelsea and Takumi Minamino of Liverpool in action during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on March 03, 2020 in London, England
Image credit: Getty Images
And perhaps the biggest sign of validation in the reviews of his performance is the way his team-mates responded, trusting him in tight moments with the ball at his feet to get them out of sticky situations.
One of the evening’s goalscorers, Ross Barkley, who himself is the perfect warning sign for overhyping a young player too much summed up the senior players’ attitude to Gilmour succinctly.
"Billy was brilliant. But it was not a surprise to me. I've seen him in training and he was like that in training last season."
Does this mean Gilmour should start against Everton at the weekend? Probably not. Does it mean he is going to be banished to Vitesse or *invokes nightmares of Josh McEachran as he whispers* Swansea? You’d like to think Chelsea have learned that particular lesson…
What it does show is that the hype around Gilmour, no matter how inevitable, might actually be justified but there is still a long way to go.
Curtis Jones of Liverpool competing with Billy Gilmour of Chelsea and Ross Barkley of Chelsea during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge on March 03, 2020 in London, England
Image credit: Getty Images
Just as it is vitally important to hail Gilmour it is equally important to keep in mind that he is going to have growing pains and it’s not always going to be as easy as this.
Just as Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have had their struggles so will Gilmour. That is the natural way of things we all need to ensure they don’t overreact and dismiss players too quickly.
On a night that Gilmour had onlookers positively purring about how he was a glorious throwback in his simplicity, why not take that as a sign to start treating players with the sort of patience that we so rarely see in society as a whole, let alone just football.
Given the toxic, binary beast we appear to have turned football fandom into, can’t we all just enjoy a young man doing some special things at the start of his career?