It can seem as if there are two David Turnbulls. There is the attacker of repute, an exhilarating talent who became a cause celebre last summer as a £3.25 million move to Celtic from Motherwell collapsed after his medical revealed the need for a potentially career-saving knee operation.
Then there is the 20-year-old player now setting out to restore his status in the game that has been built on, effectively, a season of stirring form, extending to a mere 35 games, and sees him without a senior start since May 2019.
Turnbull, now back in at full training as Covid-19 safeguards allow, recognises that football folk will want to see what all the fuss is about when the new season starts in August. A fresh beginning that he hopes will see a “horrible” year put firmly behind him.
“It is funny as there’s been so much said about me and I’m so young,” he said. “Probably 35 games is a lot for some boys my age but it isn’t the hundreds. Some people probably think I’ve played hundreds as I seem to be in the news all the time.”
And with his profile will come an expectation. Turnbull, the Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s young player of the year for 2018-19, was deemed the most promising player of his generation. He isn’t fazed by the fact that his return will naturally lead the wider public to demand of him: what have you got?
“A lot of people will be asking that question and there will be a lot of spotlight on me to perform,” he said. “But that will push me even more and make me try to prove to everyone that I am the same player and can still perform at the same level.”
It might be considered that the lockdown came at just the wrong time for Turnbull, who had made two substitute appearances in, what proved, the Fir Park side’s final two games of the abridged campaign that earned them a third-place finish in the Premiership. However, it allowed him to have an operation to remove the pins inserted when originally operated on. That surgery was necessitated by a problem that he was cautioned could end his career any time he stepped out on the pitch, or never bother him for as long as he played.
“It was a big shock, because I was playing out my skin every week and then to be told that was weird. I had to take it on the chin but I’ve got over it now,” he said. “I had one of the best surgeons I could’ve that did it [the operation]. I’m back training and every bit of running and football I’ve done since I’ve been back feels perfect, feels brand new. Obviously there was something wrong with it but because I wasn’t feeling it at the time it just feels normal again.”
Even if he won’t be running out to a roar from the stands, Turnbull’s personal new normal will come when he makes that first start for more than a year. He is in no doubt over how much that would mean to him, the club that have backed him to the hilt. So much so that he had no qualms about signing a new one-year contract extension in March.
“I wanted to repay them for what they did for me,” he said.
Neither does he downplay what his family and girlfriend have done for him, offering “millions of support” as they snapped pics furiously even when he was reappearing from the bench in March. “It would be brilliant,” he said of earning a place in Stephen Robinson’s first XI. “It’s been far too long. I’ve missed the feeling, even the Friday before a game, the preparation you put into a Saturday. Whatever you eat, the things you do before the games, getting up on a Saturday and not having the lie-in that I have had for the past year. That will be strange, but I can’t wait to get going.”
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