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INTERVIEW: Pat Nevin knows what it’s like to become an instant hit at Chelsea, like Billy Gilmour

© Kieran McManus / BPI / Shutterstock & Colorsport / ShutterstockEx-Scotland star Pat Nevin knows exactly what Billy Gilmour is going through at Chelsea
Ex-Scotland star Pat Nevin knows exactly what Billy Gilmour is going through at Chelsea

In another life, Pat Nevin was Billy Gilmour.

This time 37 years ago, he was about to embark on his Chelsea career as one of the smallest players in English football.

Today, Gilmour – at just 5ft 7in – will continue his emergence south of the border with Aston Villa’s visit to Stamford Bridge.

However, the comparisons don’t end there.

Three months ago, Gilmour had Gary Lineker raving about him when he made his breakthrough, and Roy Keane describing his performance as “world-class”.

In 1983, Nevin’s introduction to the English public had Jimmy Hill waxing lyrical and Bobby Charlton drawing comparisons with Stanley Matthews.

“Like Billy, I came down to Chelsea as a wee, skinny kid from Scotland,” recalled 56-year-old Nevin, now a radio pundit and also working for Chelsea media.

“And, just like him, I did so hoping – but not expecting – to get my chance to show what I could do in the first team.

“For me it came quickly, in a Friday night game against Manchester City away, which the BBC broadcast live.

“That was a big deal at the time, and drew huge viewing figures.

“I scored, got the Man of the Match award and had World Cup winner Bobby Charlton likening me to Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney!

“Given that just months before I had been a part-time player with Clyde and full-time student in Glasgow, it was unbelievable.

“I went to the legendary Hacienda nightclub to celebrate afterwards, and took the night bus back to London.

“By the end of the season, I was the club’s Player of the Year.”

Times change, occasionally in ways no one could ever forecast.

Gilmour was Man of the Match against Liverpool, carried on the same way against Everton in the next match only to then have his season halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“On balance, I think the break didn’t come at the best time for Billy,” Nevin continued.

“You burst on to the scene, make a big impression and you just want to consolidate that.

“But the lockdown happened, and now we will start again with almost everyone available to manager, Frank Lampard.

“Christian Pulisic is back and, wow, what a player he is. If I was going to pay my money to go to watch anybody, it would be him.

“He will be extraordinary. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is now back, Callum Hudson-Odoi is now back and there is Mateo Kovacic to consider.

“Is Billy ahead of them? I don’t know, but he had possession of the jersey.

“When it all happened, he was a wee bit ahead of the curve. Now they are all on a level playing field.

“What I am sure of is that in the longer term, it is not going to affect him.”

© Javier Garcia/BPI/Shutterstock
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard alongside assistant Jody Morris

The former Scotland winger is likewise bullish in predicting his 19-year-old fellow countryman will be able to handle his changed situation as football gets going again.

“Once you make an impact on a big stage, life becomes different,” he said. “People recognise you more. Expectations are increased, all that sort of thing.

“I remember thinking: ‘This doesn’t bother me’.

“I don’t know if it is a Scottish thing, or coming from a certain part of Scotland maybe. But you think, ‘Ach just deal with it’.

“Some people just do that. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, just that some people are better equipped than others.

“Watching the way Billy reacted after his debut, he appeared so grounded about what happened.

“Looking at that and knowing him, he will cope perfectly well.

“As a professional footballer, you do encounter every type of person.

“You get the ones who are a bit lairy, the ones who are a bit pleased with themselves – self-obsessed and don’t care about the team.

“Billy is the complete opposite, and that is why Frank and his assistant, Jody Morris, really like him.

“He is someone you can rely on, and he is a player who can cope with the pressure.

“By the way, they will have put bits of pressure on him to stress him, to test his mental capabilities.

“You need to do that with players so you know how far they can go. You do that, then you pull back a bit.

“I remember way back when I was playing for Clyde, the manager, Craig Brown, would end a pre-match talk with, ‘And by the way, just give the ball to Pat and you will win’. I was 19, and the other players were looking at me and thinking, ‘What?’.

“But Craig knew I could cope with that, and wouldn’t get arrogant and egotistical about it.

“I would think: ‘OK, that is a big expectation. Let’s make sure I can fulfil it.

“For me, Frank and Jody are a bit like that with Billy. They are finding out what he is capable of,and Billy has come up smelling of roses every time.

“But you can only say that with certain people.

“If you say that with a player who is not popular – someone who is seen to be self-indulgent and not part of the team – you will get a backlash because the players won’t accept it.

“With Billy and the relationship he already has with the rest of the players, his coaches feel comfortable saying that.

“He is a top player. He is capable of going in there and handling himself in the company of some of the best footballers on the planet.

“To be fair, I think even Chelsea are shocked by his progress.

“Frank has been open about it. As much as we all knew Billy was going to be a great player, it is a shock it has come so quick because the competition among the kids at Chelsea is fierce.

“Mason Mount came in and did brilliantly. Everyone talks about Tammy Abrahams as an England internationalist. Loftus-Cheek, and Hudson-Odoi are flying. Then there is Reece James, who is unbelievable.

“People will say it all happened because of the transfer embargo, but Frank is just like that. I think he would have done it anyway.

“Frank has been open about it. But as much as we all knew Billy was going to be a great player, it is a shock it has come so quick.”

Nevin, who won 28 caps for Scotland and played for the country at Euro 92, has no doubts national coach, Steve Clarke, will soon also be making good use of Gilmour’s talents.

“A big plus for Billy in terms of making the step up to the Scotland senior team is his versatility,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how you set your midfield up, he can play in all the positions.

“Holding, in the centre. I have even seen him playing off the strikers in a number 10 role, and he was extraordinary there as well.

“So you are not trying to shoehorn him in.

“If you take Chelsea, he might struggle to get in ahead of Jorginho or N’Golo Kante because they are the best in the business at what they do. But there are still two other positions he can get in at.

“Scotland have some great midfielders. John McGinn is unbelievable, and Scott McTominay has done a good job.

“But don’t write off Billy.

“Ruben Loftus-Cheek is an England internationalist, but would he be ahead of Billy? I don’t think he is.

“For sure, there is no chance of anyone freezing him out.”