THAT Billy Gilmour was once again not involved in a Scotland game in any capacity was largely overlooked amid the euphoria of the joyous and glorious Euro 2024 qualifying win over Spain at Hampden on Tuesday night.

And no wonder. The aftermath of a famous victory over one of the largest and most successful football nations on the planet was a time for the Tartan Army to celebrate and laud the individuals responsible. Such results do not come around very often for supporters of this country. So they were entitled to lap up every minute of it.

But the peripheral role that Gilmour now has within the national set-up is sad to see - as well as a slight concern going forward.

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He quickly established himself as a regular in Steve Clarke’s starting line-up after making his competitive debut in the Euro 2020 match against England at Wembley in 2021 – which he performed brilliantly in – and produced a series of mature and inspired displays in the middle of the park in important encounters.The Herald:

He struck up an exceptional central midfield partnership with Callum McGregor in the Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign, helped Scotland to beat Moldova twice as well as Austria, Israel, the Faroe Islands and Denmark and rack up a six game winning run in meaningful matches for the first time in 91 years. The future looked bright for both him and his homeland. 

The 21-year-old, though, has now not featured, not even as a substitute, in the last five competitive fixtures that the boys in dark blue have fulfilled. The last time he was involved in an outing that mattered was in the Nations League match against minnows Armenia in Yerevan in June last year.

Had Gilmour been missed? Not especially. Ryan Jack of Rangers and Scott McTominay of Manchester United have, it is fair to say, done rather well in his absence. The latter, who not all fans had been entirely convinced by in the past, has probably attained legendary status with his back-to-back doubles in the Group A triumphs over Cyprus and Spain.

Clarke spoke to the media at length before, during and after the opening Euro 2024 double header and fielded questions on myriad topics. He was quizzed about Craig Gordon’s replacement, the state of the Oriam pitches and the fitness of Kieran Tierney and McTominay after difficult seasons.  

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At no stage, however, was he asked about his fellow Ayrshireman. That underlined just how irrelevant the youngster has become to his country in the past 18 months or so. He has gone from being the darling of the support to a bit of an afterthought.

It was hoped by both Clarke and his compatriots that Gilmour would flourish when he sealed a £7m transfer to Brighton from Chelsea in September and put a tough loan spell at Norwich City last season behind him. He has, though, made just 10 appearances for the Amex Stadium outfit this term. He has played less than 90 minutes of football in 2023.

It is worth remembering the former Rangers kid is still young. He is a victim of his own success in many respects. So much is not expected of many other footballers of his age and inexperience. Time is on his side. He has many years at the very highest level ahead of him and can still realise his vast potential in due course.

McGregor, who won his 50th cap against Cyprus last weekend, took several years to break through at Celtic. He had to go out on loan to English League One outfit Notts County to get game time. He was the grand old age of 22 by the time he was starting on a regular basis for his boyhood heroes.

Gilmour operates in a demanding and pivotal position on the park. The 5ft 7in player has impressed onlookers with his tenacity, technical ability, coolness under pressure and intelligence on and off the ball in the past.

But it is maybe understandable that Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi has preferred Pascal Gross and Alexis Mac Allister to him in the deep-lying midfield berths in the 4-2-3-1 formation which he favours against Premier League opponents.

The Herald:

Should he remain at Brighton beyond the summer and fight for his place? Or should he go out on loan to kickstart his career? Would a return to Rangers help him to rediscover his mojo? Could the Ibrox club afford him? One thing is for sure. He has some big decisions to make in the coming months. He can ill afford to warm the replacements’ bench for very much longer.

Billy Gilmour would certainly be welcomed with open arms by supporters in Govan, would feature at a decent level, including in Europe, on a weekly basis and would force his way back in to the Scotland side if he did well.

His country, despite Clarke having Jack and McTominay at his disposal, need him. The bid to reach the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer has started in some style. But much work remains to be done and there are sure to be setbacks along the way. He could still make a huge difference for his country.