Chelsea have had a score of young talents break through at Stamford Bridge this season, all under Frank Lampard’s youth revolution. Reece James has been electric across the pitch, Mason Mount has shown his midfield quality and Tammy Abraham has scored goals galore, coming up as the club’s top scorer this season.
With all of the youth talent coming through in west London, it could be easy to forget the latest talent coming up the ranks. Despite being just 18 years old, only making his debut last August and being relatively unknown outside of the UK, there’s one youngster who has been particularly striking.
That man – or boy – is Billy Gilmour.
Gilmour has been on Chelsea’s books since 2017, when they signed the then 16-year-old from his hometown club Rangers. He got his first taste of silverware at the club in his debut season, helping the Blues win their ninth FA Youth Cup title.
His youth performances were marvellous, something that Gilmour managed to replicate in the step up to the first team. This season has truly been his breakthrough at Stamford Bridge, starting with his six-minute cameo in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United. The result marred a monumental feat in his career, but he was given the opportunity to show his skills to the Stamford Bridge faithful three and a half weeks later.
Gilmour seized that opportunity, and how.
He starred in Chelsea’s 7-1 Carabao Cup thrashing over Grimsby Town, dazzling in midfield by displaying his superb passing range and grace on the ball. Even though it was a League Cup mismatch against a League Two outfit, the performance was nonetheless outstanding.
Gilmour has proven his worth in his limited minutes of first-team football, and has earned his spot as a future staple of Chelsea’s midfield. After all, for an 18-year-old to earn seven first-team appearances in a talented top six midfield, he must be special.
The Scotsman will be a future star and a first-team regular in Chelsea’s midfield, but the question is: where will he come through?
If there’s one position that Chelsea are sorted, it’s their midfield. Jorginho and Mateo Kovačić have been brilliant this season – especially the latter, who is poised for the club’s player of the year award. Ross Barkley has definitely excelled when given the chance this season, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be better than ever once he returns from his year-long layoff through injury.
That leaves N’Golo Kanté.
There’s no doubting the Frenchman’s talent and quality as a midfielder. Since joining Chelsea in 2016, Kanté has won the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League, adding the World Cup with France in his time at Stamford Bridge.
He’s been a real asset to the Blues these last four years, but how long does he have left with that same value?
It’s been a difficult season for Kanté, whose fourth season has been hampered by injuries. His last appearance came in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester United in February, missing a total of 16 games due to being sidelined with ankle and muscle problems.
Kanté’s tally of 22 appearances in all competitions is his lowest ever for a season, a shockingly low number for a man who had played at least 89.5% of league games every season for the last eight years. The most league games he had missed before the current season was four- he’s missed 11 this year alone.
Injury is finally beginning to get the better of Kanté, and at 29 years old, those damages will become more frequent and more costly. No one can question his quality and what he has done for Chelsea, but in a hugely competitive midfield with seven superb options, Kanté may be in sight of the light at the end of the blue tunnel.
This isn’t to say that that Kanté is finished and not good anymore – far from it. What is important though is acknowledging Gilmour as a talented future star for Chelsea, and seeing the potential for him to continue the legacy of the Blues’ midfield. Under the guidance and mentoring of Frank Lampard, he will become one of the best midfielders around.
With Gilmour breaking through and Kanté struggling for fitness, the Scotsman will be the perfect heir to the World Cup winner’s throne. He’s certainly got the ability and traits to do so, and shares the same versatility of being able to play across the midfield as Kanté. The pair are very similar, and that’s why it works so well.
If Gilmour does prove to be Kanté’s successor, the Frenchman shouldn’t be cruelly forced out with no remorse. There’s not a huge rush to do so, but now is a good time to begin that transition and help ease the change into the team’s style and tactics. He still has a few good years left in him, and remains an asset to Lampard.
Kanté’s contract runs until 2023, by which time he will be 32 and Gilmour will be 21. The handover should’ve happened by then – if not then – when both players are at the perfect stages of their career to move on and come in respectively.
Whenever it happens, it will be a fantastic move for Chelsea and a sign of the new age arriving at Stamford Bridge. Gilmour is one step closer to establishing himself in the Blues’ XI, when his stardom is achieved and title of Chelsea’s midfield maestro is rightfully fulfilled.