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Danny Stewart: Steve Clarke will call on Chelsea kid Billy Gilmour to fire Scotland to glory

© Ian Walton/AP/Shutterstock Billy Gilmour in action against Liverpool’s Adam Lallana in midweek
Billy Gilmour in action against Liverpool’s Adam Lallana in midweek

Time alone will tell if Scotland boss Steve Clarke succeeds in his goal of using the Nations League play-offs as a back-door route to Euro 2020 qualification.

For that to happen, his players must beat Israel at Hampden on March 26, then follow it up five days later with an away win against either Serbia or a Norway side starring the red-hot Erling Braut Halaand.

It is, in short, a tall order.

What now looks certain is that the new tournament will be remembered for being the stage on which a startlingly exciting young Scottish talent made his breakthrough to senior international football.

As with Karamoko Dembele at Celtic or, to scroll back a bit, John Fleck at Rangers, pretty much everyone who follows the game had heard of Billy Gilmour before he kicked a ball at first-team level.

He was the Rangers wonder kid, training with the first team aged just 15, before being lured away to Chelsea, despite considerable efforts to persuade him that if he stayed on at Ibrox he would be fast-tracked into the first team.

Since then, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has called him up, and talked him up.

But no amount of build-up could have fully prepared Clarke for the little midfielder’s display against Liverpool, a tie he travelled south to watch in person.

“Fantastic. Personality on the ball, intelligence in his decision-making, always making angles to offer himself and has that bit of aggression in him which is very important in the Premier League.”

The words are a post-match tweet from Cesc Fabregas, a World Cup and two-time Euros winner with Spain.

Gilmour, for a while a club-mate at Stamford Bridge, modelled himself on Fabregas, studying his videos obsessively. And it shows.

Blessed with 360-degree vision and total confidence in possession, he looks, to quote Pat Nevin, “nailed-on perfect for international football”.

Clarke agrees and will frank that view by including Gilmour in his squad for the Israel showdown.



Also demanding attention is his choice of central defenders.

With Scott McKenna and John Souttar both out with long-term injuries, there is a need to bring in reinforcements.

While the area has long been a problem, the national coach has options open to him, and Souttar’s loss could well be his Hearts team-mate Craig Halkett’s gain.

In a traumatic season for the Edinburgh club, the 24-year-old has made a decent impression as a player with the potential to take the step up.

He was capped at Under-19 level, and knows Motherwell’s Declan Gallagher – who pleased Clarke after making the step-up last year – from the pair’s time together at Livingston.

Less experimentally, expect the inclusion of Grant Hanley, nine years after he was first given the call.

Experienced, playing in the English Premier League regularly as captain of Norwich City, he is a low-risk selection in the circumstances.

Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths only got 15 minutes at Livingston in midweek, but is looking more like his old self and has surely done enough to merit a call.

Elsewhere, there are likely to be few surprises for the country’s biggest game in more than two decades.

The Tartan Army expects and Steve Clarke needs to deliver when it matters.