'Born to play for Celtic' with first touch direction excellence: John Collins analyses David Turnbull's impact
Midfielder David Turnbull continues to be no less than a beacon in the blackness. And for John Collins, there are reasons to believe that, however much the team have crumbled in their failed pursuit of a record 10th title, in the 21-year-old signed from Motherwell for £3.5million in the summer his old club has a gem they can rebuild around.
The stats that can be attached to Turnbull since he was given a starting run in the side as of mid-December make for stunning reading. His glorious free-kick opener against Hibs on Monday night that gave way to Celtic conceding an added-time equaliser was his fifth goal in only eight outings. Across those games, he has also fashioned three assists.
His output is all the more impressive when it is considered that Celtic had won only two of the previous 12 games when Neil Lennon turned to the Carluke-born performer for the final game of a dismal Europa League campaign. The playmaker then introduced after he had been sidelined for the best part of a month with Covid-19. He responded with a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory over a Lille team that Francophile Collins rates a top drawer side. Yet, it is Turnbull’s temperament that the 52-year-old feels is as laudable as his talent.
“He plays with such self-belief that all good players must possess,” said Collins, a former Celtic midfielder and assistant manager. “He simply has all the tools: vision, a hunger to get on the ball at all times and make things happen and the technical ability to produce strikes and dead-ball expertise to deliver on that determination. It is easy to show all these attributes when you come into a winning side, but he was brought into a struggling team and still showed all those qualities.
"Look at the goals he has scored. He doesn’t chip in with the fourth or fifth in an easy win, he has been scoring goals that alter the entire complexion of games. He demands to be given that responsibility. Against Hibs the other night, he was the one that stepped up and produced a great free-kick when his team were crying out for a bit of quality and a goal.”
There are parallels to be drawn between Turnbull’s early days as a regular at Celtic and what Collins encountered when becoming the club’s first million-pound player in the summer of 1990. Both were pitched in at the club enduring crisis times, though Collins points out that Rangers were then unstoppable in having money to burn and boasting “about half the England team in what will be regarded as about the best side in their history”.
“In the summer when Turnbull joined no-one could have believed Rangers would be 21 points ahead in January, but Celtic have just been far too inconsistent and Rangers so very consistent,” he said.
There are other key differences too. Collins was an established international who had played almost 200 games at Hibs before his Celtic move aged 22. Turnbull, meanwhile, had only 40 Motherwell appearances to his name because of the knee problem that led to a Celtic move being aborted in the summer of 2019, and which cost him almost the entire next season.
‘First touch direction’
“How he has come back from that injury is another endorsement of what he is all about,” the former Celtic assistant said. “Clearly, he is mentally very strong. He obviously did his rehab well and has come back even better. That is a great tribute to him, but I would never have said it was an issue that he had only made 40 senior appearances before his transfer. I say that because look what he did in them for Motherwell with his numbers for goals and assists [16 goals and nine assists produced in those games].”
Turnbull’s prowess can be summed up for Collins in what he calls ‘first touch direction’ excellence. “By that I mean the way he takes the ball in,” he said. “If you watch, he does that and moves off in the direction that will give him the greatest amount of space and time in any situation. It is top notch, and tells you everything about his game awareness. He knows where to take the ball, and has the ability to do that. The fact he is so two-footed, which is all-too-rare, is an outstanding element of that.”
Born to play for Celtic
It really should not be that Celtic are depending on a 21-year-old newbie to drag them through games. Yet, Turnbull has all-of-a-sudden become their most influential performer. Collins cautions against expecting him consistently to live up to such a billing when his career at the club remains in his infancy.
“It is still very early days for him at Celtic and you don’t want to put too much pressure on him, in terms of what it is reasonable to expect,” he said. “He has made himself a first pick and is affecting games on a regular basis. That is good going. More than that, he has surely given Celtic supporters enjoyment in a season where there hasn’t been nearly as much of that as they would like. They must enjoy watching him play because you couldn’t not with how he has attacked his performances. He is the type that does look as if he was born to play for Celtic, and long may that continue.”
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