The sight of David Turnbull joining in Motherwell FC training at their Tenerife camp this week was extremely welcome viewing, as the Steelmen prepare for an exciting second half of the season, writes Craig Goldthorp.
Turnbull – who would have joined Celtic for £3.25 million last summer but for a troublesome knee injury which subsequently required an operation – is one of Scottish football’s most exciting young talents.
Despite only becoming a first team regular in October 2018 when Motherwell were in the middle of a battle against relegation, the attacking midfielder netted 15 goals between then and May 2019 as ’Well finished eighth and comfortably clear of the relegation zone.
The 20-year-old – who landed club Player of the Year and Scottish Football Writers’ Young Player of the Year – appeared to have the world at his feet, with the whopping transfer fee in his Hoops move being almost double the Steelmen’s previous record fee received when the late Phil O’Donnell joined the Parkhead giants for £1.75 million back in 1994.
The phrase ‘transfer saga’ can be an overused one, but it was an accurate description of how the proposed Turnbull Celtic switch dragged out.
Ultimately it ended in disappointment for all parties, with Celtic frustrated at not getting their man due to injury and Motherwell missing out on a massive cash injection while being unable to field their star player for all of this season so far despite retaining him on their books.
It says a lot for manager Stephen Robinson and his fantastic player scouting network that – despite Turnbull’s unavailability – ’Well have still carved out an excellent 2019-2020 campaign so far as they sit in the lofty heights of third place, above bigger clubs like Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts.
The team has been largely settled all season, with new centre back Declan Gallagher, brought in from Livingston on a two-year contract, the pick of the bunch as he’s won two international caps for Scotland while being linked with a transfer to the English Championship.
But Gallagher has not been the only star turn.
Midfielder Liam Polworth – recruited on a two-year deal from Inverness Caley – and forwards Chris Long and James Scott, a free agent and youth academy product respectively, are three others whose flashes of brilliance this season mean they look destined for bigger things.
Finishing third – and qualifying to play in European football for the first time since losing 5-4 on aggregate to Icelandic outfit Stjarnan in season 2014-2015 – is now a realstic target for Motherwell.
Holding onto manager Robinson – despite him being linked with the high profile vacancies at Hearts and Hibs – has been very welcome news as the Northern Irish gaffer’s stock continues to rise having already led the Steelmen to both national cup finals in season 2017-2018.
While finishing third would be an awesome achievement, the Holy Grail for most Motherwell fans would be their favourites managing to win the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1991.
Yes, 29 years really have gone by since supersub Stevie Kirk headed in a famous extra time winner to see off Dundee United in front of 57,319 fans at Hampden Park as Motherwell won the trophy for the first time since 1952.
Upon their return from the aforementioned training camp, Motherwell will get back to competitive action in a William Hill Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Championship side Dundee at Dens Park this Saturday, kick-off 7.20pm.
As if any warning is required that they must guard against complacency, the Motherwell players would do well to remember that last season’s team disappointingly lost 2-1 at home to then Championship side Ross County at the same stage of the competition a year ago.