Sport

Steve Clarke turns to Scotland youth and sets challenge for Billy Gilmour

Steve Clarke has urged Billy Gilmour to demonstrate “how good he is” after the Chelsea teenager was named in Scotland’s squad for the European Championship. This marks Gilmour’s first call-up to the A squad, emphasising his meteoric rise.

Clarke admitted “circumstances” – namely injuries to Gilmour’s fellow midfielders Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean – played a part in his decision but he has called on the former Rangers youth player to seize the opportunity. Gilmour turns 20 the day the tournament begins.

“I think the recent games Billy has played are quite important,” the Scotland manager said. “He has been back in that Chelsea team working hard and obviously I get good feedback from people at Chelsea. I know how highly they regard Billy. He is a top talent and he was in my thoughts going back to when all this kicked off.

“He was in the Chelsea team under Frank Lampard and doing really well, so he has always been in my thoughts. Now he has got a chance to show us in camp how good he is.

“He has played at a really high level in the English Premier League. I know how difficult it is to get into the Chelsea team. He is up against a lot of good competition there and any time he plays he does well. He doesn’t look out of place and now he has a chance to come with us and show us his talents on the training pitch up close.”

Other first call-ups for Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull are notable in a youthful Scotland squad for their first finals appearance since 1998. Declan Gallagher, at 30, is the oldest outfield player. “There is a good balance between players who have got us there, players who deserve to be in the squad and that little bit of freshness the young players will bring,” Clarke said.

“I think it’s great for the future. You think that it has taken us so long to qualify for a tournament and hopefully all these guys who go to this tournament experience the atmosphere in the summer, get a taste for it and want to go to the next one in Qatar.”

Clarke smiled when offered comparisons to previous so-called “golden generations” of players in the England setup. His caution over that is perfectly sensible. “It’s nice to think we have a squad of players that have qualified for a tournament. We’ve got a group of younger players that can come in and push that talented group.

“And then, if it all comes together? I don’t think you can speak about a golden generation, if I’m being honest, until we’ve actually qualified for a few tournaments.. Hopefully in five or six years from now we’re talking about this as a golden generation but, at the moment, this is a generation which has qualified once in 23 years so let’s just enjoy the tournament in the summer if we can.”

Clarke shrugged off fitness concerns over Ryan Fraser raised by the player’s manager at Newcastle, Steve Bruce. “I know Brucie had a little bit in the papers saying it might be a gamble but the way Ryan has been for us and the way he played in the last camp, it’s a gamble I’m willing to take,” Clarke said.