In the early weeks of this season there was great concern amongst Chelsea supporters that the club had made a vital mistake allowing Billy Gilmour to join Norwich City on loan for the season.
Gilmour had struggled to gain sufficient minutes for the Canaries as Daniel Farke dropped the Scottish midfielder out of the lineup as Norwich continued to lose, looking like a club destined for another relegation come May.
Soon social media was filled with fears the loan would damage the highly thought of Gilmour and proclaiming it was always destined to be the wrong one for the midfielder from the start.
After a run of six league games under Farke where Gilmour got zero Premier League minutes, since Smith’s arrival, he has now started the past six league outings.
The amount of minutes acquired in this period now means Chelsea are unable to recall the 20-year-old in January despite fears over a recent midfield injury crisis for Thomas Tuchel.
However, Gilmour remaining with Norwich for the full season with Dean Smith was the main objective behind this loan move in the first place; minutes.
Although the academy talent finds himself in a unique place of proving good enough to play in Chelsea’s midfield against top opposition under Frank Lampard and Tuchel, the guarantee of minutes at Norwich was what made the loan move such a no-brainer.
Marina Granovskaia has been behind a lot of vital negotiations in recent years for players sales and acquisitions, being able to juggle the need to recruit and keep top talent whilst raising funds from unwanted assets.
The loan system has proved a very fruitful place for Chelsea given some of the best performing players in Tuchel’s current first team were aided by strong loan moves.
Mason Mount at Vitesse and Derby, Reece James at Wigan and Ruben Loftus-Cheek with Crystal Palace and Fulham.
In the case of Mount and James, it is undeniable both players inclusion in the first-team squad has likely saved over £100m on potential transfer fees, which can be saved for other names the club goes after in the market.
Probably the more pertinent comparison for Gilmour is Trevoh Chalobah who had a series of what might be considered “unfashionable” loan moves to Ispwich, Huddersfield and Lorient.
All three moves though gave Chalobah the room to grow, the consistent flow of minutes that helped make him a very experienced player by the time he returned to Cobham this past summer ready to breakthrough.
Chalobah like Mount, James and others before him do not look fazed by the challenge of making the step up to the senior level at Stamford Bridge.
Some of that is undoubtedly their elite education within Cobham from a very early age, their individual technique to get them to a top-level, but also being a much more refined talent forged by loans away from the comfort zone of the academy.
Minutes appear to be the obvious, but undeniably important aspect of these loan moves that have preceded the breakthrough into Chelsea’s lineup. Rather than the glamour of the actual destination they are sent to.
Chalobah was on loan with relegation-threatened Lorient last term, a 16th placed finish in Ligue 1 put them only two points clear of being thrown into a relegation play-off.
For Chalobah, that loan could have easily been framed like Gilmour’s with fears the environment could have damaged the player. But the move gave him 29 appearances in one of Europe’s top five leagues, something that has clearly served him well.
There also is an argument is saying young players who become very accustomed to the elite facilities at Chelsea are confronted by clubs in a completely different situation helps build young players character and resilience.
Gilmour, like Armando Broja at Southampton, Conor Gallagher at Crystal Palace, Levi Colwill with Huddersfield and Ian Maatsen with Coventry are all treading a similar path to those young stars before them, hopefully returning to Chelsea with the adequate experience to make an instant impression