BILLY GILMOUR’S ability has always marked him out above his peers. But in his many years nurturing and developing the best young Scots, Billy Stark has seen many a talented youngster fail to live up to his potential.

What has always marked Gilmour out to Stark though as someone who is destined for the top of the game is his attitude. In fact, in all of those years and working with hundreds – if not thousands – of players, he can’t remember anyone who outdoes the Chelsea prodigy in terms of his will to improve and his application.

The likes of James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong remain among Stark’s star pupils in that regard, but when it comes to having the mixture of talent and determination required to mix it with the very best, Gilmour is at the top of the class.

“I have seen boys with plenty of confidence in themselves who don’t go on to fulfil their potential because they don’t have the other attributes that are needed,” said Stark, who is now coaching Scotland’s under-19 side. “Billy has got them all as far as I can see.

“He’s probably the best young player I’ve worked with in terms of all-round attitude. There’s been a number of them, James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong for instance, good pros who listened and tried to do what was asked of them. But Billy is as good, if not better, in terms of his all-round attitude.

“He’s first on the training ground, he loves training, he loves playing, he just loves everything about being around football. That’s the thing that really shines through when you first meet him.

“He has a smashing personality, he’s popular with the other players. He’s not arrogant in any sense, although coming through the age groups, he would always be viewed as the top player. That certainly doesn’t come across in the way he conducts himself.

“He works his tail off for the team, and he’s a coach’s dream to work with to be honest with you.

“Brian McLaughlin was working with him at the performance school down in Kilmarnock, and he was in with the under 16s and 17s. He was consistent all the way through that.

“I had him for just over a year, and what I would say is that it’s easy to go on about his ability, that’s been demonstrated clearly at the top level against top opposition. That also indicates the confidence he has in himself. But his attitude is also first-class.”

There were quite a few eyebrows raised when Gilmour swapped Rangers for Chelsea at such a young age, and many feared for his prospects of gaining regular first-team football at a club hardly renowned at the time for its promotion of young talent.

With a transfer ban rather forcing their hand though, Gilmour is one of many young Stamford Bridge stars who are making a name for themselves under the watchful eye of Frank Lampard this season, a manager who looks to have a knack for blooding and nurturing precocious talents. Suddenly, there looks few better places for Scotland’s great white hope to be making his first steps in the senior game.

“I think Lampard deserves great credit for the way he’s introduced him,” said Stark. “He got a wee taste of it, came out, sat on the bench for European games. With Billy’s personality, he would have watched that, and it would have increased his drive to get an opportunity and to take it in order to show what he can do. He’s done that spectacularly well.

“Lampard was a particular type of midfield player with the number of goals that he scored. Midfielders are more specialised now than they were. There’s the defensive midfielder, the linker, the number 10, while the box-to-box midfielder is less common now. But Billy could play any one of those positions.

“I don’t think he’ll get to the level Frank Lampard did in terms of his goalscoring return, but he has that in his armoury that he can take a chance when it comes. The way people would view him though is as a technical player.

“He’s never going to be the tallest, but he’s worked hard to get his body into the best possible shape it can be, and you saw that, he’s never short in terms of tackling and the physical side of the game. There was never going to be any problem there.

“It’s just whether he can use the attributes he has to make an impact on the game.

“He always wants to be on the ball, he’s always moving. These seem to be obvious traits, but that’s not the case. It’s a natural thing with him, he moves into positions to receive the ball and get turned and look forward.

“A lot of midfield players now can make a decent career out of receiving and passing the ball without really playing forward passes, but Billy is always one that’s looking to go forward.

“There’s a poise over the ball, and the weight of the pass and the accuracy are bang on. These are the small details that set the top players apart, and Billy has got that, there’s no doubt about that.

“He leads his life properly, he wants to maximise his potential and be the best player he can, and I don’t have any doubts he is going to do that given the chance.

“You just hope that when things pick up again, he gets the same opportunity. Certainly, Frank Lampard seems to have the trust and faith in him, so you would hope that would be the case.”

Only perhaps Scotland manager Steve Clarke knows whether he was going to bow to the will of the Tartan Army by including Gilmour in his squad for the Euro 2020 playoff against Israel before the match was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the 18-year-old named in Scot Gemmill’s under-21 squad for their own matches scheduled on the same week.

The question of whether he would step up remains unanswered, but Stark believes he will be ready for that call no matter when it comes.

“You always have to be wary about that clamour,” he said. “Knowing Billy’s background, I’d be more than confident about him handling it, but in general terms, just because you have played a couple of games in the English Premier League doesn’t necessarily mean you should be in the Scotland team.

“But I don’t have any doubt that if Steve did pick him then he wouldn’t let anybody down.

“He’s still eligible for me at under-19s actually, but he was always going to be playing for the under-21s this year. He’s gone in there as a young one, and the status he now has after what he did for Chelsea’s first-team means there is now a pressure on him, and you want to see how he would handle that. I don’t mean Billy particularly, I just mean anyone in that situation.

“So, rather than being in the full squad and maybe not getting on the pitch, he is better playing with Scot at under-21s I think.

“Equally though, if Steve did pick him and decided to put him in the team, he wouldn’t let anybody down, that’s for sure.”