Billy Gilmour knows all about game awareness, having burst onto the scene over the past year in a deep midfield role that requires a 360 degree understanding of what’s around at all times.
The jump from academy to senior football only exacerbates that need to think and play quickly, with a clear picture of the pitch becoming essential as the game becomes even more frantic. Even when the opposition are swarming around intently, being aware of one’s surroundings and the proximity of team-mates means a player can trust their quality to play through the press.
‘You have to be confident in yourself to go and receive the ball,’ says Gilmour. ‘You need to be always checking your shoulders and knowing where you are on the pitch. If you don’t do that, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.’
Coaches Corner, the latest feature from Perfect Play, aims to teach players of all levels the key skills to help them become the best players possible, and the first session is focused solely on honing that spatial understanding.
Developed by the Chelsea FC Academy and launched back in August, Perfect Play has become the most downloaded football training app worldwide. It provides access to professional standard, world-class coaching for all, a grounding Gilmour himself has benefited from in person after arriving at Cobham at the age of 16.
‘The game gets quicker and more tactical in the Premier League so you always need to know where you are on the pitch,’ explains the teenager.
‘It’s then about not taking too many chances, making sure you do things full of confidence, receive the ball with both feet and just trust your own ability.’
Few players have mastered the art of confident, clinical ball-playing in a Chelsea shirt over the years than Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard was an artist with the sphere at his feet, making things look easy, but that perception of calmness personified was developed through years of experience in game understanding.
Gilmour’s deep playmaking in midfield has been compared by some to our former number four, a player whose game he analysed in depth while growing up and someone who has not been backwards in coming forward to praise the young Scot.
‘When I was watching Cesc, it was all about his forward passes to the striker, whether that was a lofted pass, a clipped ball or just a simple through ball,’ adds Gilmour.
‘He was one of the best at doing that, especially at Chelsea, and I want to add that more to my own game, but it comes first of all from being aware of what’s around you.
‘He speaks a lot about the boys because he obviously used to be here but it’s always nice seeing a top midfielder like that comment on your game.’
It is not just midfielders who benefit from seeing the game in spatial terms. Callum Hudson-Odoi, a player who has come through the Academy ranks since the age of nine, believes it is essential to wing play as well.
‘I think to myself, if the game is congested in one area, I want to get it out of that area as quickly as possible because that opens the team up,’ explains the young forward. ‘I try to do that as much as possible and use my range of passing to do that.
‘Every time, before I receive the ball, I always look over my shoulder and look around, just to see where the space is, whether it’s so I can get the ball and take on my defender, create something myself, or so I can see somebody that’s free and get the ball to them as quickly as possible.
‘Scanning the play before you receive the ball is the main thing to help you switch sides quickly, and hopefully it helps you create a chance as well.’
As Hudson-Odoi and Gilmour demonstrated on the big stage at Stamford Bridge last weekend, those attributes are clearly helping two talented youngsters hit even greater heights. If it works for them, it can work for anyone.
-In the first instalment of Coaches Corner, which you can watch in the video above, Chelsea Academy coach Sam Page explains the key aspects of game awareness and demonstrates, with the help of Jorginho, how Perfect Play can help aspiring players of any ability to hone those skills.
The Perfect Play app is available now on iOS and Android for users in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Click here to download today!