Billy Gilmour has played four times for Scotland since last taking to the pitch in green and yellow.
It’s not been an ideal loan period for the young Scotsman, who once again impressed for Steve Clarke’s side as they prevailed over Denmark in World Cup qualifying.
The 20-year-old proved his technical ability by dictating play, was unafraid to communicate with this teammates with vigour and even put his foot in.
He showed everything Chelsea hoped he would be able to display at Norwich.
Gilmour started four of the Canaries opening five games taking to the centre of the pitch against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. Former Norwich boss Daniel Farke cited the youngster’s workload as a reason for him not featuring, but to not take to the pitch for more than a month seemed to signal he was out of favour more than anything else.
Matthias Norman took the role in the centre of midfield and scored in Norwich’s first win of the season, the same day Farke was relieved of his duties.
Now, Dean Smith takes his place and the quest to impress starts again. Gilmour will be given a chance by a coach who has had success with young players like Jacob Ramsey at Aston Villa.
“A big role, along with the rest of the squad,” Smith said he envisaged for Gilmour and Todd Cantwell.
“It is a new start for them in terms of a new coaching team coming in and we will get to see them tomorrow in training and it is down to them now to impress us to get into the team.”
In Thomas Tuchel’s eyes, the former Rangers trainee’s task probably doesn’t change. Earlier this season the 48-year-old was in no rush to question the value of the loan.
He said: “You have to hang in there, you have to show your quality and you have to make sure you help your team, no matter where it is. That sharpens your character. That will be making a big chapter in your career.”
Minutes are crucial to Gilmour’s development, and with the qualities his Scotland displays have imbued it’s simply a shame not to see them more more often.
Before his loan, Gilmour was Chelsea’s fourth midfielder behind an elite group of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic. His departure saw the requirement to bring in Saul Niguez on loan.
Chelsea have an option to make the deal permanent for £30 million at the end of the season. However, the deal was to provide depth rather than necessarily to be a fixture in the starting XI.
Tuchel said following Saul’s signing: “As you know, we agreed for Billy Gilmour to go to Norwich to have more minutes at the highest level, he was our fourth midfielder last season. Now with the Covid situation and the Euro and Copa America, I personally was a bit concerned to go into the season with only Jorginho, N’Golo and Mateo [Kovacic].
“We don’t have the biggest squad in terms of numbers – we can feel it now without two players, we end up thinking about who is in the 18 – but we have a strong squad in terms of quality and character.”
Without time on the pitch, Gilmour’s position in the Chelsea hierarchy will change little and it would be simple to expect the club to find another loan for 2022/23. He even could be further down the pecking order given the re-emergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
A solid time at Carrow Road dispels any need to consider Saul’s signature, regardless of whether the Atletico Madrid loanee can prove he is worthy of consideration during the hectic fixture schedule.
Gilmour can prove he has the quality and the character by shining in difficult circumstances, and can provide depth to Tuchel’s midfield.
The Ardrossan born star’s growth could be key to Chelsea’s plans. The Blues have been widely linked to Declan Rice and Aurelian Tchouameni, and while Gilmour might not dispel the want for those players as Kante and Jorginho age, it may provide Marina Granovskaia with time, or at the very least some extra funds to work with.
With the expiring contracts of Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea’s focus may need to be on defence next summer.
Like Romelu Lukaku being the Blues’ statement singing this term to plug a gap that was clear in Tuchel’s squad, Granovskaia’s priority may need to be replacing Rudiger and Christensen in 2022. That will not come cheap.
Being able to avoid a stop-gap signing like Saul, could go a long way to combatting that.