There aren’t many secrets in college football these days, and there weren’t many big clubs that didn’t know 15-year-old Billy Gilmour. A few years ago, Europe’s top teams almost fell on top of each other in their attempts to sign a young Gilmour from Rangers, each taking note of this tiny midfielder who never seemed to lose the ball.

Gilmour’s ability was so evident that Arsenal, as a potential contender, unleashed all their charm on the teenager and his family. The Gilmours were asked to descend from Ardrossan to attend an academy game, then were asked to stay an extra day in order to meet Arsene Wenger himself. Wenger had personally asked Gilmour for an audience, hoping to convince him to choose Arsenal over Chelsea.

The sales pitch was compelling, as you would expect, and the Arsenal option was tempting in the extreme. But there are few academies in the football world that can compete with Chelsea. At Cobham, they don’t offer a guarantee of playing in the first team, but they do guarantee the best possible training and facilities. In Gilmour’s case, they also had Frank Lampard in the room when the family came to visit him.

For Gilmour, the plan has always been to establish himself as a Premier League footballer. He is described as having an insatiable appetite for the game, just wanting to play as much as he can, and that motivation was one of the main reasons for his loan transfer to Norwich City this summer. Norwich wanted class in the midfield and Gilmour wanted more playing time than Chelsea, as European champions, could realistically offer this season.

It was Daniel Farke who convinced Gilmour to move to Carrow Road, telling him convincingly about the club’s project and the 20-year-old’s role within it. Which makes it all the stranger that after just a few games this season, Gilmour found himself out of Farke’s squad. In five consecutive matches, he hasn’t even come off the bench.

Supporters, pundits, teammates and coaches: all were perplexed as to why Gilmour was taken out of a Norwich side that seemed to be in desperate need of his technical abilities. Former Scotland striker Ally McCoist captured the mood when commenting on his country’s victory over Denmark last week, when Gilmour was once again superb. “It must be a team, this Norwich,” McCoist joked, his tongue firmly against his cheek.

Farke’s sacking and subsequent appointment of Dean Smith already appear to have changed the course of Gilmour’s season. Smith had received rave reviews from John McGinn, his former midfielder at Aston Villa, and was quick to reinstate Gilmour in the starting lineup. In Smith’s opener, last week’s 2-1 win over
Southampton, Gilmour played 86 minutes and assisted Grant Hanley’s game-winning goal.

“Billy will be essential to stay upright,” Smith said. “When you have a player of that talent on loan, you want to make the most of it. He loves football and wants to be there all the time. He was watching our Under 23s play on Friday night and he was all over the pitch against Southampton trying to move the players forward.

Hanley, also a teammate with Scotland, went further in his praise. “There is no doubt in my mind that Billy will play at the top,” he said, before hinting at some of the confusion within the Norwich squad excluding Gilmour under Farke. . “He’s probably the best player every day in training, and every time he plays he’s probably the best player,” Hanley said.

Chelsea, of course, is watching the situation closely. Gilmour spoke to Thomas Tuchel a few weeks before Farke’s sacking, as thoughts were already starting to turn to the January transfer window and other potential options.

Tuchel was reportedly excited for Gilmour to stay at Chelsea this summer, having pitched him in three of the last five Premier League games of last season and then seeing him excel for Scotland at the European Championships, while he was the man of the match against England. “Gilmour was always available,” said Gary Neville of
the midfielder’s performance at Wembley. “England don’t have this player.”