Frank Lampard spoke beforehand of a supreme talent, who promised so much when signing from Nottingham Forest as an 18-year-old – only to follow a similar path to so many starlets with hopes of making it at Stamford Bridge.
“He clearly had great finishing ability and an eye for goal in that early stage at Chelsea,” said Lampard. “It didn’t quite work out for him which was more due to the competition he faced at that time for us.”
That has been a familiar tale during the Roman Abramovich era. The “farming” of prospects before selling them on to make their careers elsewhere.
Lampard has begun to buck that trend – as much through necessity as ideology due to last year’s transfer ban – which is why his handling of Billy Gilmour will be so intriguing.
Ahead of a January window which could see the 19-year-old sent out on loan, his immediate future is on the agenda. In years past, Gilmour’s situation would look like the beginning of the end – especially with Abramovich hitting the transfer market with a renewed zeal of late.
But even if he does head elsewhere in the New Year, he looks destined to have a major future at Chelsea.
Lampard will only permit his departure to speed up his development – but watching his comeback on Tuesday night, the question is whether Chelsea can afford to let such a talent go in a season that will be so demanding on the depth of their squad.
Lampard says he is determined not to block Gilmour’s progress, which is why he’s refusing to rule out a temporary move.
Gilmour was the standout performer in a dour 1-1 draw with Krasnodar in the Champions League – making his first start of the season after recovering from knee surgery.
But when asked if a loan move was possible, Lampard told BT Sport: “I’m not sure. The way he trains and plays I can see him with us. I have to make sure the pathway is right.”
On this evidence there will be no shortage of takers should Gilmour become available in January.
Five months after undergoing surgery on his meniscus Gilmour slipped straight back into top level football, displaying the qualities that sparked such excitement when he made his breakthrough last season.
His touch, awareness and positivity were immediately evident, while the manner in which he snapped into tackles suggested he has full confidence in his knee.
It was the sort of performance to throw him straight back into contention for a regular starting place, but for the wealth of options Lampard has in midfield.
Lampard has settled on a midfield three of N’Golo Kante, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, with Mateo Kovacic in close contention. Jorginho has had to accept a supporting role in the first few months of the season.
Frank Lampard praises N’Golo Kante
Gilmour will be part of that mix – and with five games in the space of 17 days before the end of December, he should be a valuable option for Lampard to call upon.
How much he is deployed and how well he equips himself could ultimately determine he spends the rest of the season. And given his remarkable rise, it is not beyond the realms of belief for him to thrust himself ahead of Kovacic and Jorginho in the midfield pecking order if he does remain at the Bridge.
Lampard has already proven he will back youth, with Mount and Reece James both establishing themselves in his strongest XI.
Gilmour’s raw talent means he could do likewise – even with the competition for places in midfield.
Watching him against Krasnodar, he looked completely at home pulling strings in the middle of a Chelsea team that has ambitions of winning the Premier League title and going deep in Europe.
Though slight of body, he is so difficult to shake off the ball with his quick feet and elusive movement. He is the type of player who just seems to make the right decisions every time – and not because he looks for the safe option.
Rather it is his positivity and determination to drive forward that gives another dimension to Chelsea and makes him ideal cover for Mount.
Lampard certainly seems torn on how to proceed. His summer business – loaning out Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – ensured fewer obstacles in Gilmour’s way. And there is also question of whether allowing the Scotland international to leave would potentially expose Chelsea’s midfield if just a couple of players are injured in a condensed season.
Lampard has found the right balance in the middle – restoring Kante to his preferred holding role, with two No8s either side of him.
Mount has become virtually undroppable in that system, given the energy and creativity he brings to the team and there is no obvious replacement for him other than Gilmour – even after Kovacic’s impressive form this term.
Injuries to Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi have underlined how quickly the squad can be stretched – and there is the potential of Mount or Havertz being deployed on the right in the short term to help cover their absence.
That is much easier for Lampard to do if Gilmour can be slotted straight in.
On the evidence of Tuesday night, he is ready to do just that.