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Transfer tales: A dance between Norwich and a Scot full of promise

Motherwell's David Turnbull appeared to have the world at his feet and transfer interest from Norwich City Picture: PA

Motherwell's David Turnbull appeared to have the world at his feet and transfer interest from Norwich City Picture: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

If things had turned out differently David Turnbull might have been an option for the resumption of Norwich City’s Premier League survival quest.

Now he is recovering from a second knee operation that has wrecked a season which promised to catapult him onto the big stage.

By way of a refresher for any Norwich fans who may have conveniently forgotten the fevered pursuit, Turnbull was the hottest of properties last summer. City supporters were still basking in the warm glow of a Championship title triumph and savouring what lay ahead on a return to the Premier League.

On one hand Norwich could offer the then teenager a shot at the Premier League. In the green and white corner Neil Lennon was desperate to add him to Celtic’s dynasty north of the border.

The Bhoys may have won the race, despite Stuart Webber’s best efforts to entice the free-scoring Motherwell teenager, but a previously undetected knee issue at his Celtic medical scuppered a reported £3.25m move.

Turnbull spent seven months on the sidelines, following knee surgery and then painstaking rehabilitation, to try and resurrect a career that appeared to be shooting for the stars.

Now 20, Turnbull is a young man who had to grow up fast. Recall this personal account of those dark hours and days after opting to turn his back on a prospective Norwich transfer in favour of Celtic.

“I drove in to Parkhead with my mum and dad. We went in the back way and I signed, obviously subject to a medical, well that didn’t work out,” said Turnbull, hinting at a nice line in self-deprecation during a fascinating Motherwell documentary on his road to recovery. “There was no spaces available to do a scan locally so I had to go down to Manchester that day. Came back up that same night.

“Neil Lennon texted me and said come in and do a bit of training just some light stuff. I went into Lennoxstown on Saturday, got me new boots, new training kit, had a meeting with Lennon and then after my medical spoke to the physio and he just said something had come up in my left knee.

A knee problem at his Celtic medical turned into a career-threatening spell on the sidelines for David Turnbull Picture Jeff Holmes/PAA knee problem at his Celtic medical turned into a career-threatening spell on the sidelines for David Turnbull Picture Jeff Holmes/PA

“He didn’t think it was anything to worry about.

“On the Sunday I got a phone call saying I had to go to Belgium on the Monday to see a knee specialist.

“I was trying to stop my mum not panicking. I was panicking myself but it was about trying to keep her calm. About 6am in the morning we got to the airport, met the Celtic physio and I found out just before I boarded the plane to Brussels I would need an operation. He had heard that from the specialist.

“That was the first time I realised. He showed me the scans compared to my other knee.

“It was hard to take in. It was crazy.

“The agent and Celtic were still working on something so it was a waiting game. It wasn’t a great one to take.”

The proposed move fell through. No Premier League shot. No European tilt with Celtic. Turnbull’s long-awaited return to action for Motherwell earlier this month was the precursor to signing a new Fir Park deal, keeping him at his old club until 2022.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon viewed David Turnbull as a key part of his plans Picture: PACeltic manager Neil Lennon viewed David Turnbull as a key part of his plans Picture: PA

He readily admits he owes Well a huge debt.

“To get back on the pitch for Motherwell is a great day for me and my family,” he said. “As soon as I knew I was back, fit and ready to get some game time, I wanted to make sure my contract was sorted. I have been here a long time.

“I feel as if I owe the club and the supporters for the way I have been looked after and treated.

“I’ve missed most of this season, so this puts us back to pretty much where we were at this stage last year - in terms of my deal - giving the club a little more protection as I was coming into the last year of my contract.

“All my focus now is to get back to just playing and enjoying playing for Motherwell.”

Football’s shutdown, in response to the global pandemic, may have halted his nascent progress, but it allowed Turnbull to finally close the door on a painful chapter.

The attacking midfielder went back under the knife in recent days.

Sam Byram did arrive at Norwich City last summer Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdSam Byram did arrive at Norwich City last summer Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

“David had two steel pins inserted when he had knee surgery last year. It was always going to require a minor operation to take them out,” said Motherwell chief executive, Alan Burrows. “With no games scheduled for the foreseeable future, he’s gone under the knife now.

“It will take him three or four weeks to recover.

“If we’d waited until May, that could have impacted on his pre-season training. Now it won’t.”

Not even the most die hard Norwich fan would surely begrudge Turnbull an injury-free run to fulfil the potential that first alert City and Stuart Webber.

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