For those of us fortunate enough to have watched them in their prime, there was a sense of an impossible standard being set for future generations.
The kid from Ardrossan didn’t just want to stand and admire the great carousel in full flow. In his mind’s eye, he wanted to climb aboard it.
Billy Gilmour has spoken of how he grew up admiring Barcelona’s Spanish midfielders
‘When I was young, I used to watch Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi — everyone did,’ he explained.
‘But when I started to analyse my game and think about who I would like to progress to be like, it was more like Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas — it was those players.
‘It was something about how they passed the ball, receiving the ball, everything was sharp. Sergio Busquets, too. When you watch Barcelona and you watch Busquets specifically, everything happens around him.
‘Those are the kind of players I looked up to, getting on the ball and making things happen.’
A product of nature, nurture and evidently the power of inspiration, the 18-year-old’s early forays in Chelsea’s first-team have drawn fulsome praise from some who do not deal in hyperbole for the sake of it.
Gilmour watched Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi but did not want to play like them
In saying that Gilmour ‘looked like a world-class player’ following his man-of-the-match display in the 4-0 win over Everton in March, Roy Keane franked the growing consensus around the young kid from Ayrshire.
Coming just five days after Gilmour had been instrumental in a 2-0 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup, the midfielder immediately transcended the category of one to watch. He’d arrived.
‘Leading up to the games, I was always thinking about what I’m going to do,’ he said. ‘When the gaffer (Frank Lampard) spoke to me, he said: “Go out and play your own game”. That gives you a lot of confidence to go out and do what you love.
‘Playing in the game (against Liverpool), there were parts that I felt were difficult, but when I got on the ball, I felt good. I had players running off, so it was making it easy for me.
‘It was a great, great game, so I was happy to play well. And then receiving the man-of-the-match award, it was amazing.
‘I never thought of it, I just wanted to play the game well, not muck up anything and play the game right.
‘To get first-team experience against Liverpool, the best team in the world right now, felt good.’
The Englishman says Xavi (L) and Andres Iniesta are the types of players modelled his game on
Would Gilmour have been thrust into the spotlight had Chelsea not been under a transfer embargo? We shall never know.
Yet any doubts over his ability to make it there were always the preserve of others. Reflecting on the decision to move to London from Rangers as a 16-year-old in July 2017, he said: ‘When I was at Rangers, the youth coaches were amazing and helped me a lot. I went to a performance school in Scotland where you do individual training at an academy.
‘So instead of going to a geography class, you go and play football in that period.
‘My dad played football, too, and always told me to keep it simple, work hard and you can’t go wrong.
‘At the time (when moving to Chelsea), I didn’t really know what was going to happen. But when I went down, saw everything and they had a plan, it was unbelievable. It was a dream.
‘I always wanted to go and play in the Premier League to test myself and see what my limit is.
Gilmour arrived at Chelsea as an attacking midfielder but has grown into a deeper role
‘When I first came, I’d say I was more of an attacking midfielder and then Jody Morris turned me into a deeper player. To get on the ball and start play is best for me, but I am happy playing anywhere.’
Named in Scot Gemmill’s last Under-21 squad, there remained a possibility of a call-up to the full party by Steve Clarke before the pandemic put the Euro 2020 play-off with Israel into cold storage. While it’s hard to say when, exactly, that game will take place and what players will be at Clarke’s disposal when it does, Gilmour, you suspect, will be ready.
‘Everyone knows my feelings about representing my country,’ he added. ‘Hopefully, I’m not far off it. I just need to keep working hard and see where it takes me.
‘After the Liverpool game, I swapped shirts with Andy Robertson. He came up to me and said: “Well done, you played really well. Keep doing it and, hopefully, I’ll see you soon in the first-team squad”.
‘It was great to hear that from the captain of the country. I then asked him if we could swap shirts and he said: “No problem”. So that was me buzzing.’
It says much that an appreciation of his talent is now to be found beyond those harbouring a vested interest.
The young midfielder holds off Takumi Minamino of Liverpool during an FA Cup tie in March
When Jack Wilshere, the West Ham midfielder, looks at the 18-year-old excel in Chelsea’s blue, he sees Gilmour only through the prism of a supporter.
Like anyone who has witnessed the former Rangers trainee light up Stamford Bridge with a touch and vision that belie his tender years, the England man has been transfixed.
‘Billy plays with his head because he is not the biggest, strongest or quickest,’ said the 28-year-old.
‘He makes the game look so simple and that is what is so impressive about him.
‘A boy of that age, to have that maturity on the ball and to be able to make the game look easy isn’t something you see too often.
‘To be able to beat players when you are not that strong and that quick is also something I like to do. When you are smaller and haven’t got that strength, you need to get closer to players, to feel them.
‘It’s beautiful to watch and I love watching him. It looks as though he has a bright future in the game. He is the type of player that you just like to watch. There’s not many of them.’
Gilmour will never be hindered by a lack of free advice. But as one who was occupying his shoes a decade ago, Wilshere’s words are surely worth heading.
‘Any advice for Billy would be to just keep doing what he is doing,’ he added. ‘Lampard is clearly giving him the right advice and he has a good team around him. Just keep practising, working hard.
‘He seems to have that natural ability. A lot of people said I had that natural ability but you soon realise that is not enough to survive at the top every week in the Premier League.
‘You need something else about you. You need to work hard, have that bit between your teeth every week and want to go out there and perform. He is at the best place to do it.’
The Lockdown Tactics is a new podcast hosted by former Scotland stars Robert Snodgrass and Kris Boyd. Its core focus is Mental Health and Wellbeing. The full interview with Jack Wilshere is available from noon on Tuesday on YouTube and various social media platforms.