David Turnbull’s Celtic career is very much in danger of petering out, if it hasn't already. 

The Scotland international, who joined from Motherwell in 2020, is entering the final year of his current contract, with the prospect of an extension looking unlikely.

Turnbull’s arrived to significant fanfare, given the events that happened in the summer window a year earlier. Following a long and very public negotiation period with his boyhood club, the talented youngster agreed on a move to Glasgow, only for a problem in his knee to be flagged up during his medical.

The transfer collapsed and Turnbull had surgery to repair the injury. He recovered well and that prompted Celtic to come back in for him following an impressive start to the season for Motherwell in the Premiership.

Through the use of StatsBomb radars to measure metrics, Turnbull’s statistical numbers from each season at Parkhead will be analysed and compared in order to gauge how his current situation has transpired.

Turnbull's Arrival in 2020


It took a while for Turnbull to fully make his mark in the team following his eventual transfer to Celtic. Despite this, the midfielder would make 34 appearances in all competitions for the club in his debut season, providing a bright spark in what was otherwise a dismal campaign for Celtic. Unlike later seasons at Parkhead, the 23-year-old was deployed as an attacking midfielder for the club when playing in the 4-2-3-1 formation under Neil Lennon and then John Kennedy, hence the change of position on the StatsBomb radar.

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Scoring nine goals and completing eight assists in all competitions for the club, Turnbull provided a great outlet for chance creation. He averaged 2.95 shots per game, putting him in the 92nd percentile for attacking midfielders in this metric. Furthermore, he committed only 1.90 turnovers per 90 minutes, again in the upper echelons of percentiles, ranking in the 93rd of that statistic.

However, the young midfielder did have statistics that had some definite room for improvement. For example, he only completed 1.43 pressure regains per game and his passing percentage was only 82 per cent, showing two areas where Turnbull’s game could be improved upon.

Consolidation in 2021 under Ange Postecoglou


2021 was a year of change for everyone at Celtic, with Lennon departing the club and Ange Postecoglou coming in as his replacement from Yokohama F Marinos. The Australian brought with him a new style of play and formation, which would directly affect Turnbull in his second season at the club.

For the 21-22 campaign, Turnbull operated deeper as a central midfielder, and this is reflected in the StatsBomb radar, where a few different metrics have been calculated based on this positional change. Despite this alteration, Turnbull managed to score 10 goals and assist eight times in 42 appearances for the club, even through suffering a hamstring injury which kept him out of action for nearly three months.

When directly comparing statistical metrics from last season, there was a clear improvement in Turnbull’s game from the previous season. For example, his passing accuracy improved from 82 to 85 per cent, although this is perhaps due to the role he was playing in which more players were in front of him to pass to. His fouls won and successful dribbles also increased, from 0.97 and 0.72 to 1.25 and 0.79, respectively, highlighting Postecoglou’s positive impact on him following his arrival.

Conversely, Turnbull’s turnovers actually increased from the previous season, averaging 1.95 to the season prior’s 1.90 90-minute average. This is problematic as, due to his deeper role, the player would put the team at risk if he lost the ball in his area due to his position.

Third time is not the charm for Turnbull


It would not be unreasonable to suggest that this season has not gone to plan for Turnbull. Despite making 35 appearances in all competitions and contributing five and seven goals and assists, respectively, the player has found it increasingly difficult to start games this campaign. This has been even more clear following the World Cup break, where he has only started three games. For a player who was one of the first picks on the team sheet the season prior, 2023 has not been a good year for Turnbull so far.

One of the statistics that jumps out is the 90 minutes played, which is only 10.7 compared to 21.5 the year before. This means that the sample size will be smaller due to his reduction in minutes, partly down to the emergence of Reo Hatate in his position this season.

His passing accuracy percentage has gone up yet again for a third consecutive year, from 85 to 86 per cent, though this is perhaps due to fewer minutes on the park skewering the results. Similarly, successful dribbles and pressures have both increased from last season also, improving from 0.79 and 12.35 to 0.93 and 13.14 per 90 minutes.

Despite the lesser minutes assisting in better statistics for Turnbull, there have been decreases in some of his metrics. For example, his turnover statistics have increased from 1.95 to 2.24 this season, further underlying his potential harm in the midfield in terms of losing the ball in dangerous areas.

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Furthermore, despite his increased pressures per game, his regaining of the ball after initialising a pressure has lowered too, from 2.74 to 2.42, a small but significant drop. Turnbull also wins fewer fouls than last season, only averaging 1.02 to the campaign prior’s 1.25 total.

With a year left on his deal and his failure to stake a regular claim in the Celtic team, the midfielder should do what is best for his own career and depart the team in the summer.

It is a real shame, given the early promise that was evident in his play, but Postecoglou’s limiting of his minutes in the side is a strong hint that his long-term future is not with the Hoops.

Still, he is clearly talented and there will be a whole host of clubs that would be glad to recruit him in the summer if he does decide to call time on his Celtic career.