MAKING his first team debut for Chelsea in a pre-season game against Bohemians in Dublin last month was a huge moment in Billy Gilmour’s fledgling professional career. As was sitting on the bench for the Stamford Bridge club in their European Super Cup encounter against Liverpool in Istanbul in midweek.

But can the prodigiously-talented Scottish teenager force his way into Frank Lampard’s plans in the coming season and justify his decision to leave Rangers last year? That will, with the calibre of player he is vying with for a start, be an altogether more difficult task.

Yet, Brian McLaughlin, the former Celtic winger who worked closely with Gilmour during his time in the JD Performance School set-up, has no doubts, none whatsoever, that Gilmour has the necessary ability and fortitude to feature for Chelsea on a regular basis in the not too distant future.

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McLaughlin has kept in close contact with the London giants’ youth coaches since the gifted midfielder moved down south and has received glowing reports on his progress. In fact, the Glasgow-born youngster has been compared to England and Liverpool great and current Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard.

The performance school manager, who welcomed the new intake of 52 hopefuls at Hampden on Tuesday, believes that reflects positively on the system he oversees.

“The Chelsea coaches spoke about Billy’s mentality,” he said. “They said it’s the exact same as Steven Gerrard’s was. Technically, they’re at the same level, tactically they’re at the same level. The biggest thing, though, is the mentality.

“They said Billy was the first there in the morning, trains the hardest and he’s the last to leave. It seems to be now a common thread with all of the players who have come through the performance schools and that’s very pleasing because it’s something we’re trying to create.”

McLaughlin continued: “The day after Billy played in that Champions League youth final (against Porto in Nyon back in April) he flew back here to be at Grange. He called James Grady (SFA elite performance coach) to say ‘I’m up in Scotland for a few days, can I come back in?’

“Billy was back into the school the day after that final. That says it all about his attitude and how he felt about the performance school.

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“When Billy went down to the Chelsea changing room he was 16-year-old going into a changing room where at that moment in time there were the very the best talents in Europe, players they’d spent millions on.

“The English players in the changing room back then had just come back from winning the Under-20 World Cup. And yet one of our players, who had come through our programme, can step right into the middle of that changing room.

“And according to their coaches he’s different. All of a sudden, a year later, Frank Lampard turns round and says ‘I want him in the first team’. I genuinely believe the development he’s had with our programme has helped that. The extra hours we’re giving the young players, and the specialised training, has prepared them.”

Gilmour’s decision to join Chelsea from Rangers was the talk of Scottish football 12 months ago. The wisdom of the move was questioned by supporters, pundits and coaches. He was accused of having his head turned by the riches on offer in the Premier League and putting personal profit ahead of his development."

McLaughlin stresses that the Scotland Under-21 internationalist made the decision purely for football reasons because he felt it was the best place for him to realise his enormous potential due to the high standard of playing he would be both working alongside and up against.

“When Billy came through the programme and then went to Chelsea, some people said he went there for the money,” he said. “ He didn’t. I’ve no doubt he backed himself.

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“Billy thought to become the best player in Europe he had to go to the best youth club. He thought Chelsea’s youth set-up was the best for his development. And he backed himself to go into that changing room and be the best. Whether that was a good or bad decision, we can’t tell yet. But I’d back him.”

Gilmour may have moved on before he had the chance to play in the Rangers first team, but McLaughlin is confident other Ibrox youngsters to come through the JD Performance Schools will do so in time.

“When we started this programme we developed a great relationship with Rangers,” he said. “It was a brand new programme and I’m sure Rangers would be the first to tell you that back then they weren’t sure it would work.

“How could the Scottish FA work with their players, their signed players, for 50 or 60 per cent of their development? I’m sure they weren’t sure, but they still felt they’d give it a chance as all the clubs did.

“ Then I think Rangers realised it was benefitting their players. So they could see Billy coming through. There are others, too, who I feel will break into their first team, but who they’ve decided to send out on loan for now.”