Upon Billy Gilmour’s arrival, I was excited.
In my eyes, we were getting a player who’d been in and around Chelsea’s a Champions League-winning, who has worked under two coaches I felt were perfect for a player like him: Frank Lampard – one of the best central midfielders in recent history – and Thomas Tuchel – one of the best coaches in world football and someone who’d worked with Daniel Farke at Borussia Dortmund.
Being Scottish myself, I’d watched him closely in The Tartan Army’s Euro 2020 campaign, where he was outstanding and won Star of The Match in the 0-0 draw with England.
As a spectator, it seemed like a win-win. Chelsea’s young talent was getting Premier League experience, and we’d be getting one of the most highly-rated ‘wonder kids’ in world football.
But it didn’t go to plan, and here, in my view, are some reasons why:
In the 2020-21 season, the Canaries bagged Spurs youngster, Oliver Skipp on loan. After a slowish start, he took the Championship by storm and was one of City’s key players, as we won the league.
Many called for his return ahead of our Premier League campaign, but Tottenham manager, Nuno Espírito Santo, was keen to keep him in the capital. I feel, in a sense, that this set the bar unreasonably high for Gilmour, upon his arrival.
Regardless of the Scot’s abilities, it was bound to be a tough season for City, and comparing him to one of the best performers in a promotion-winning squad was always likely to end in disappointment.
Ollie was also more unknown than Billy. He’d made a handful of first-team appearances, but that was it. Gilmour, on the other hand, was dubbed the best thing since sliced bread by Scotland and Chelsea fans, in doing so heaping the pressure on him more than his predecessor.
But there is something I want to delve into more…
As referred to above, Billy arrived with a much larger reputation than Oliver Skipp but it’s worth reminding ourselves that upon arrival, Gilmour was genuinely considered one of the wonder kids in the Premier League.
Not only did it increase the pressure on him, but I believe it oversold him to Norwich fans. I genuinely thought, wrongly, that we were getting a player good enough for Chelsea’s first-team, largely down to the praise he’d received from fans and pundits alike over the previous year
These weren’t just from Chelsea fans though – Scotland too was going mad for him.
Billy received his first call up just ahead of Euro 2020, making his debut against The Netherlands, although his first start wouldn’t come until the second game of the tournament for Scotland – a massive game against England.
Many players would crumble under that pressure, but Gilmour seemed to thrive on it. He won Star of The Match and dominated the game, increasing his popularity among the Scotland faithful. Unfortunately, he tested positive for COVID-19 after the match, ruling him out of the last group game against Croatia.
Still, this tournament allowed him to impress on a larger scale, attracting interest from many clubs interested in getting him in on loan. One of those was, obviously, Norwich City.
Now I’d like to talk about whether it was the right move, from the club’s perspective.
Need to Survive
City fans came into this season with relative optimism, despite our last Premier League campaign.
In the 2020-21 season, we’d bounced straight back up under Daniel Farke, playing more defensively solid football but still having the firepower to comfortably win games in the promotion race. We all knew that the Premier League was a different beast though, and that’s why I was surprised this transfer was given the go-ahead.
At City, there is little room for error when it comes to transfers. As a self-funded club, it’s imperative that all deals are fully evaluated. Obviously, there’s some leeway in this with loan players but given you’re only allowed two Premier League loans into the club, you don’t want to waste them.
I don’t think Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke were naïve enough to believe Norwich wouldn’t be on the back foot for the majority of games. Yet, to bring in a player who’d never really experienced that pressure, seemed poorly judged.
Any player can tell you the difference between being allowed time on the ball and being pressed, and for me, that’s one of the main reasons why Billy hasn’t been the player we anticipated.
He hasn’t been afforded that time on the ball, and it’s removed so many elements of his game, making City poorer in possession at times.
This season, Gilmour’s made 21 league appearances, and in those games, City have won seven points. In the 13 league games that Billy hasn’t played, we’ve won 14 points. Surely that’s no coincidence.
It was stated before the season that Webber and Farke were looking to sign more physical players, after seeing the team lack in that area in the 2019-20 season. That’s why this deal is so confusing.
Billy is a primarily technical player and one that this season, sadly, hasn’t made an impact.
I do want to put on record that I think Gilmour will have a fantastic career, at Chelsea or elsewhere but, unfortunately, a relegation battle with Norwich City was the wrong move for him, and the wrong move for the club.