WATCHING the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010 proved to be an experience which would have a profound impact on Billy Gilmour.

He marvelled at the stylish football which eventual winners Spain produced – not least their revered midfielders Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta - in that memorable tournament. 

The diminutive youngster, who was showing considerable potential as a player himself by that stage, modelled himself on the Barcelona duo Xavi and Iniesta, who were both of a similar stature, thereafter and did not look back.

The Brighton man, who is set to start for Scotland in their international friendly against the Netherlands in the Johan Cruyff Arena here in Amsterdam this evening, is eagerly anticipating gracing the same stage as his idols once again at Euro 2024 in Germany in June.

And he is, having played more first team football this season than at any stage in his career to date, hoping that he can make the same sort of impression as his role models and possibly inspire some promising kids somewhere himself. 

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“I think if you ask any Scottish player or fan they’ll tell you how much they’re looking forward to that opening game in Munich,” he said. “In Germany versus Germany? It’s the stuff of dreams.

“It’s night and day from the last Euros, when the crowds were reduced and it felt a bit unreal. This will be more like the tournaments you grew up watching as a kid.

“My first one was South Africa in 2010. I had the theme tune as the ringtone on my phone. I remember watching the final on holiday with the family and wanting Spain to win.

“Growing up, I loved watching Barcelona with that midfield of Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets and I based myself on their way of playing, a small guy who knows how to keep the ball.”

The Herald: Gilmour added: “I just give it 100 per cent and right now I’m in a good place. I’m feeling good and looking forward to these two games. I’m enjoying my football, which is a totally different story from last season.

“From not playing at all to being in the team regularly. My confidence is high and I want to bring that to the Scotland stage.

“Getting games and experience under my belt has been great for my development. We’ve played in Europe this season as well and I get it with Scotland against other national teams. I want as much experience as I can and the boys around me have helped.

“Hopefully I’ve shown that I can go and do it on this stage now. I come into most camps ready to go. I’m young, hungry and I want to play in every game. It’s my country. I’ve played a lot of games now and this season I feel strong with no injuries.

“I want to keep this going. I go into every game now, for Brighton or Scotland, thinking I can dominate the game, no matter the opposition. That’s my mindset for any game. I don’t go into it with any nerves or thinking I’m up against this player or that player.”

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Gilmour had just broken into the Scotland squad when the national team played in Euro 2020 back in 2021 and he only made his competitive debut in the group game against England at Wembley.

He was superb for his country in that heroic 0-0 draw – but he believes he is far more complete player now and is optimistic he can make an even greater impression at Euro 2024 if he is given the nod again by manager Steve Clarke. 

“Before the last Euros, I was brought in late on for a friendly against Holland away,” he said. “At that stage, I was thinking about just experiencing it and being around the squad. I didn’t actually think about playing or certainly starting against England at Wembley which was unbelievable.

The Herald: “This time, I’m more part of the group and I want to play games. There’s loads of competition in the squad and everyone is playing well for their clubs. The manager will have to make hard decisions. I need to give it my all and hopefully I’ll be in that squad.”

The 5ft 7in 22-year-old has benefitted greatly from working under a vastly-experienced coach like Clarke during the past three years – but he also knows he owes Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi a debt of gratitude. 

“With every player, you do your best when you have a manager who believes in you and trusts you,” he said. “He (Clarke) trusts me to showcase what I’ve got. With Scotland, there’s no doubt Steve always has my back. He’s helped me a lot since coming through.

“And my gaffer at Brighton, de Zerbi, has certainly given me that this season. He’s shown confidence in me to go and play. He’s intense! He’s a very passionate man who only thinks about football 24/7.

“He has great skill in teaching us how to play and his work ethic, on and off the pitch, is incredible. Football is constantly on his mind.”

Gilmour has formed an outstanding central midfield partnership with Callum McGregor in the Scotland side in the past – but the Celtic captain will not be involved in the double header against the Netherlands and Northern Ireland because he is sidelined with an achilles injury at the moment.

The Ayrshireman is keen to ensure that he dovetails with whoever else plays in the middle of the park in Amsterdam this evening and help the visitors to record a positive result against a leading football nation ahead of Euro 2024.  

“Myself and Callum play really well together and we complement each other’s game,” he said. “We’re small, technical players at the base of the midfield. He’s going to be a massive miss for us.

“He’s a top player and I’m sure he’ll be raging that he’s not here because he always turns up for club and country. He’ll be a big miss but whoever comes into the midfield, we need to create partnerships.”