WATCHING Croatian great Luca Modric single-handedly dismantle Scotland in their final Euro 2020 game at Hampden three years as he isolated at his home hundreds of miles away in London after testing positive for Covid-19, was excruciating for Billy Gilmour.

The then Chelsea midfielder had just helped his country to record a gutsy 0-0 draw with England at Wembley on his competitive debut at full international level and would doubtless have been one of the first names down on the team sheet if he had been available.

The 3-1 reverse which Steve Clarke’s charges suffered as they tumbled out of the tournament was hard for him to stomach in the circumstances.

Yet, Gilmour, who had picked up the Man of the Match award following his inspired individual display against Gareth Southgate’s side, always believed he would have the opportunity to showcase his talents on such a stage again and he has been proved correct.

He is determined to show he is no longer a promising young kid at Euro 2024 – starting with the tournament opener against hosts Germany in the Allianz Arena in Munich tomorrow evening – and put his previous disappointment firmly behind him at the same time.  

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“Last time around was not good at all,” he said. “I found out the morning after the England game that I had Covid so I had to isolate for 10 days. I had to go straight to my house in London. I had my car so I had to drive straight there, no stops.

(Image: PA) “After the England game I felt really relaxed, felt I was part of the squad. So to wake up the next morning and get told I had Covid was not ideal. I had to pack quickly and I left my boots and shinguards with the kitman. I am still looking for them as they were lost. I had pictures of my family on them and so I got them replaced with the same. 

“I felt fine. It was just the test meant I couldn’t do anything. All I remember is watching the Croatia game in my room, not being able to do anything. I remember thinking Modric was unbelievable, his goal especially. When special players like Modric do things like that you just have to take your hat off to them.

“After the England game I knew I could have had a chance of playing another game or playing a part in the Croatia game. I was especially looking forward to going up against Modric. Mateo Kovavic was playing in that game as well. That did hurt a bit. But I never really thought that I wouldn’t get the chance again. When you look at the squad we have we had good enough players to get back there again.” 

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It was not an entirely negative experience. “I had my neighbour making me food,” said Gilmour. “I stayed in a top level apartment in London and my neighbour below would text my mum asking if I was okay. She would bring up lunch, breakfast and dinner and just leave it at my front door.”

Gilmour is keen to consign that unfortunate episode to history in the coming weeks and serve up a few showings at Euro 2024 which Scotland fans, and football supporters around the world, can savour.

The Ayrshire-born footballer turned 23 on Tuesday and is, after a season of regular first team matches at Brighton, eager to show that he has fulfilled his enormous potential at long last in Germany.  

“I was happy just to be part of the 26 at Euro 2020,” he said. “I hadn’t featured at all for Scotland so I wanted to gain experience. Of course, I was shocked when I found out I was starting against England and I was nervous.

(Image: PA) “But I am 23 now. People always look at me, possibly because of my height and stature, and think,  ‘He’s a small boy, only a kid’. I get that. I get it a lot in fact. It’s not something that annoys me. It’s just I am not a young kid now. I have been in the game a good while now.

“I have really enjoyed being at Brighton from the start of the Premier League season and playing the majority of the games. I had the trust of my manager and we have had a good team. I love the way we play football. That style has suited me on the ball. Going into every game we knew we had a really good chance of beating the other team.”

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Gilmour worshipped the great Barcelona team of the 2000s and 2010s and modelled his game on their diminutive central midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Can he emulate the Spanish greats and the other European icons he admired as a kid when he is in Germany? He will certainly be endeavouring to do so.

“I watched YouTube for Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi, Modric and Kroos when I was growing up,” he said. “When you watch highlights of clips you can see how well they play football. It’s pretty impressive. I try to do the same stuff in games.

“But everyone is different. When you watch Toni Kroos he is always very calm on the ball and composed. Everyone is different. For me, it’s just about going out there and enjoying it and seeing how well I do.”

Hundreds of thousands of Gilmour’s compatriots have travelled to Germany to see Scotland in action at Euro 2024 – including many pals and members of his immediate family – and he is looking forward to receiving their backing in the Group A matches against Germany,

“I have family and friends coming over,” he said. “They will be at all the games so they are looking forward to it. They are excited about it. 

“My dad was saying to me that, no matter what, if I didn’t play football or I wasn’t at the Euros, he’d be here with all his friends anyway. It has been a dream of his. My dad, mum, brother, all my dad’s mates, my family, his uncles, they are all excited and can’t wait. 

 “I have been getting people far too many tickets! They were definitely always coming over. But of course my mum and dad and all my family are proud I am part of it as well. It gives them an extra lift. Them being here will lift me too.”

(Image: PA)