CRAIG BROWN looked on at Wembley as a young Barry Ferguson ran the show for Scotland and was left in no doubt that he had been right to throw the Rangers prodigy into the national team set-up from an early age.

At 21, it was Ferguson’s fifth cap for his country, but he controlled the match against seasoned international players such as Paul Scholes and Paul Ince, leading the Scots to a 1-0 win over the Auld Enemy as they fell just short of qualification for Euro 2000.

Twenty years on, and the nation still hasn’t been back to the party. But the Tartan Army are once again excited about the emergence of a potential top-class talent in midfield in the shape of former Rangers kid Billy Gilmour, who has burst onto the scene at Chelsea in the past week, picking up man-of-the-match awards against both Liverpool and Everton with classy and dominant performances that belie his tender years.

Gilmour is just 18, and has yet to receive a full cap for his country, but Brown believes that if Scotland are to give themselves the best possible chance of not missing out yet again, then Gilmour has to be in the thoughts of current manager Steve Clarke.

If he is good enough, as all the signs seem to suggest, then he is old enough in Brown’s book.

“On the evidence of what I’ve seen, I think he’s ready,” Brown said. “I saw the boy playing for the youths at Rangers a couple of years back against Aberdeen, and he was a standout, there’s no doubt about it. He would have been 15 or 16 at the time, and you could just tell that he was a player.

“In my opinion, age is not a barrier for him playing for Scotland. It’s his ability that counts.

“I remember when we played England at Wembley in 2000, the best player on the park was Barry Ferguson. He was a wee bit older than Gilmour, but he controlled the match against the likes of Scholes and Ince. The best player on the park was the youngest player on the park.

“It is a similar situation that Stevie faces now. People were clamouring for Barry to be in the team, but in fairness, he had played more than a couple of games for Rangers by then.

“In my opinion though, I wouldn’t exclude Gilmour on the basis that he has only made a handful of appearances for Chelsea. He’s playing at a far higher level than the Scottish Premiership. It’s far more difficult down there, a much more difficult environment.

“If he is good enough, he is old enough, in my opinion. If he’s playing for Chelsea and holding his own against Liverpool, then it stands to reason that he has to be good enough.

“That is Stevie’s decision though.”

With Scot Gemmill due to announce his Scotland under-21 squad today for qualifiers against Croatia and Greece later this month, Scotland fans won’t have to wait long to find out if Gilmour has made the step up for the Euro 2020 play-off game against Israel.

Reports yesterday suggested the Scotland management team see the increased game-time Gilmour will get at that level to be in his best interests, but Brown says the senior side has to be the priority.

“People might say that it is better for him to get more game-time for the under-21s, but it’s not about what is better for him, it’s about what is better for Scotland,” he said.

“If he is good enough for the first-team then I think that’s where he would want to be anyway.

“For me, half an hour in the first team would be as much value as a whole game at under-21s. The full international level is so much higher, and I know, because I managed both teams for eight years.

“Of course, you would be depriving Scot Gemmill of him for the under-21s. That happened to me once when Andy Roxburgh took John Collins for a friendly in Saudi Arabia, but the priority is the first team.

“That worked out because he played well and then he was put into the Scotland team. He had only just turned 20.

“Gilmour looks to be exceptional, and he would benefit from even being around the squad like that too. We used to take young lads to tournaments with us to pad out the numbers at training, and a lot of them would go on and gets caps for the first team.

“It was a great way to introduce them to the set-up and I’m sure it played a part in them making that transition. They were then comfortable.”

As well as the dazzling performances that Gilmour is producing on the field of play, he seems to have been impressing people behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge too with his humility and his work ethic, qualities that Brown is sure Steve Clarke is all too aware of.

So, whichever decision is reached in terms of which squad Gilmour is in, he is certain it will be a hugely informed one, trusting that Clarke will have done his due diligence.

“The thing to bear in mind is that Stevie has the great benefit here of having the inside track at Chelsea,” he said.

“The inside track is not the manager or the assistant, because they are biased. It’s the kit-man and the groundsman who will see the boy around the place every day and tell you what he is all about.

“I’m quite sure Stevie is astute enough to have phoned some of his pals down there and got the inside knowledge.

“It will be up to him to judge him as a player, but Clarke will know everybody at Chelsea who has an opinion on him.

“If he was a rascal in any way, then people love to tell you that.”