Since bursting on to the Scottish Football scene as an 18 year old with hometown club Motherwell, David Turnbull has already faced more ups and downs than many players would experience in a whole career.
The Wishaw born midfielder made his debut for The Steelmen five years ago this month (on 10th February 2018) coming on as a sub in a 2-0 Scottish Cup victory away to Dundee before going on to quickly establish himself as one of their most important players.
Since then however his journey has been one of highs and lows.
The buzz of scoring his first goal in claret and amber.
The high of being awarded the 2018/19 Scottish Football Writers Young Player of The Year award in his first full season in senior football.
The pride and anticipation at the prospect of being Motherwell’s most expensive export in the summer of 2019….
Then, the devastation at the discovery of a knee issue that would not only halt his pending move to Celtic, but may also have brought a cruel end to his fledgling career altogether.
DAVID TURNBULL’S ROAD TO RECOVERY
Turnbull is a quiet and mild mannered by his very nature and can be a man of few words when interviewed.
What can’t be denied however is the sheer character and determination he showed to ensure that set-back would only be a blip in a career that until then had been on a smooth upward trajectory.
Though he struggled to acknowledge it at the time he now accepts that the identification of the issue during a medical in Manchester in 2019 is something that ultimately could have saved his career.
“For the first few days, my head was gone. I was just trying to let it sink in. I didn’t know what to do and my girlfriend and family looked after me.
“But you do start to realise that it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that I got the medical done and the issue showed up because it could have ended my career.
I look at it that way now. It sort of saved me.”
In a relatively rare move in the modern game, Turnbull’s gruelling road to recovery was documented in full in an excellent piece by the Motherwell FC Media Team.
It’s raw, honest and uplifting.
If you watch, read or listen to nothing else about David Turnbull, but want to get a true sense of his character, watch this.
BACK IN THE GAME
After 8 months out of the game – a lifetime for a young player – Turnbull finally returned to full training at Motherwell in February of 2020.
His reintegration into the side was completed later that same month as he made his return as a second half substitute at home to St Mirren before signing a deal extension the following month.
The collapse of his initial move to Celtic was described by then Motherwell manager Stevie Robinson as like winning the footballing lottery then losing the ticket.
But it wouldn’t be long before Turnbull was once again making the short drive from Motherwell to Parkhead.
ARRIVAL IN PARADISE
Just 14 months on from that failed medical, Turnbull would finally become a Celtic player, putting pen to paper on a four-year deal on the 27th of August 2020.
The move would earn Motherwell a fee of up to £3.25M and is something they fully deserve given how they nurtured Turnbull’s young career before nursing him through his crucial rehabilitation.
After initial frustration at a lack of game time during the “Covid season” Turnbull would go on to be the shining light in an otherwise disappointing campaign for Neil Lennon’s Celtic.
On a personal note his 10 goal contribution from midfield – including a Europa League strike against French Champions Lille – would see him go on to earn the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
However the team’s failings would see the man who brought him to Celtic Park relieved of his duties, only to be replaced by a certain Ange Postecoglou.
ANGE BACKS ‘THE BULL’
Ange Postecoglou is clearly a fan of Turnbull.
He constantly speaks well of ‘The Bull’ who was a pivotal part of the Australian’s midfield across last season until that was curtailed by a hamstring injury in the 2021/22 League Cup Final.
Speaking as the midfielder prepared for a return to action in the final weeks of last season Ange said,
“He was fantastic for us in the first half of the year and it was disappointing for him that he got a fairly significant injury that has kept him out for a while.
“But he has worked hard in rehab and I know he is itching to get back out there. He has been training really well over the last seven to 10 days.
“I was probably a bit conservative with him, I could have maybe thrown him in last week, but watching him train he is ready to go and I think he will be important for us.
“He’s a quality player, he is a goal threat, he is good on set-pieces and I think he adds something to our team.”
With the signings of Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley in January 2022 however, followed by the capture of Australian international Aaron Mooy last summer, Turnbull has found gametime harder to come by in what is now a talent packed Celtic midfield.
Despite most of his appearances coming from the bench of late he’s shown what he can offer recently with three goals in his last five games – all coming from outside the area.
He’s one of very few players in the current squad who has that range in his locker.
Turning 24 in the summer, and with just over a year of his current deal left to run, Turnbull now finds himself at a crossroads in his career.
Is he happy to continue primarily as a substitute in Ange Postecoglou’s swashbuckling side?
Could he be attracted by the different challenge (not to mention the financial rewards) that a move to England may offer?
Or – as he’s shown when faced with previous challenges – will he grit his teeth and prove that he can be part of Ange’s plans moving forward?
My sincere hope is that it’s the latter.
Turnbull is young, talented, and determined, but it’s generally felt that Celtic have yet to see the best of him on a consistent basis.
For him to be given that chance however he has work to do across the remaining weeks and months of this season.
Before being drawn on whether Turnbull (as well as team-mates Joe Hart and Aaron Mooy) would be offered a new deal, Ange has stated that he wants to know if the players are as driven for success as he is.
“With these 3 guys (Hart, Mooy and Turnbull) I’m constantly talking to them about what their ambitions are.
I want to make sure that every step of the way we’re looking after the player’s interests – but also looking after the club’s interests too.
Every decision will be made against that backdrop.”
Across his young career February has proven to be a pivotal month for Turnbull.
His Motherwell debut in February 2018.
His return to first team football after knee surgery in February 2020.
His re-emergence as a key player for Ange Postecoglou in February 2023?
Now’s the time for Turnbull to show everyone what he’s got.
One thing that’s not in doubt – and never has been – is the talent. It’s time to show it.