The Rise and Rise of David Turnbull

2019 has been quite the breakout year for David Turnbull who, at the time of writing, is on the cusp of a record-breaking transfer away from Motherwell. But how has a 19-year-old with only 2761 first team minutes managed to become one of the hottest properties in Scottish football?

Turnbull is actually due a testimonial after reportedly turning down opportunities to sign for Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen to sign for The Steelmen in 2009 at the tender age of 9. During his decade at the club he started in Motherwell’s first ever Scottish Youth Cup final win when he was just 16 and most recently finished the 2018/19 season as Scottish Football Writers' Association Young Player of the Year.

But you’re not here to here to read a truncated wiki article…



Let’s start with goals. The narrative is that Turnbull is a goal scoring attacking midfielder after finishing the season with an impressive 0.42 non penalty goals per 90 but the underlying stats don’t suggest that this is sustainable. A look at his shot map gives you an idea why.

12 goals from an xG of 6.01 is a pretty big red flag, coupled with a propensity to shoot from distance (54% of open play chances) it doesn’t look good on the goals front next season. A shot conversion rate of 22% is more than double the 10.8% expected conversion rate (how many shots we expect to go in based on the location of the shots).

So, if all the stats point towards a goal drought why are clubs clamouring for his signature?

Build Up Play

If scoring them is going to be an issue, it won’t matter because the data shows that there is the skill set of a fantastic play-maker in the making.

All stats ‘per 90’

A change in style from Robinsons Motherwell also saw the introduction of Turnbull to the first team. He had been on the periphery of the squad for the first half of the season but a move to a more ball playing three-man midfield allowed him to flourish.

Frequently the set up was Alex Gorrin playing in the middle of the three in a slightly deeper holding role splitting his distribution between the two play-making midfielders. Turnbull would pitch up on the left-hand side and often looked to play on the front foot at every opportunity. It was not uncommon for Turnbull to come slightly deeper to pick the ball up from the full back before driving forward. This is evident in the below Pass Heatmap which shows that a majority of his passes come from within the left half space.

What really sets Turnbull apart from other playmakers is his quality in the final third. As you can see in his PassSonar a lot of his passes are short and forward, whilst he benefited from the great movement of Tait and Ariyibi, he frequently set up great chances in dangerous areas. So much so he caught the eye of our very own Jason in his piece on the most impactful midfielders in Scottish Football.

Set Pieces

As well as being a threat from open play, Turnbull chiefly took the set pieces for Motherwell. Now, I must point out here that it’s notoriously difficult to score from corners but Turnbull certainly holds his ground.

Across all teams in the league there were 2204 corners, from this there were 332 attempts on goal yielding 28 goals. The combined xG from those attempts was 31.79.

From 93 attempts Turnbull created 17 attempts on goal which is a better return than the league average (18% vs 15%). Whilst none of those attempts were converted their combined xG of 1.58 is also just above the league average.

Locations of attempts from Corners from David Turnbull
Goals - 0
xG - 1.58


Turnbull is a player who has caught our eye a few times this season, and was even touted by the @TheGersReport at the end of the 2017/18 season as a player to look out for, so his meteoric rise doesn’t come as a big surprise. The data backs up that there is still more to come and so the interest from other clubs is warranted.

Celtic have put in a bid in excess of £3m which could still prove to be a bargain if his potential is met. Celtic fans often moan about the club buying players domestically but the fact is that The Scottish Premiership is still an undervalued league, you only have to look at the rise in value of players that have left the league to join clubs south of the border.

In much the same way John McGinn’s link to Celtic was often mooted as him being a replacement for Scott Brown (a comparison I never really understood), David Turnbull is being compared to Olivier Ntcham. On this occasion it would appear that comparisons stack up. They both have similar styles, all be it Ntcham is a much more composed player with many seasons under his belt, early signs show that Turnbull may be a worthy understudy if not even a direct replacement already.

Stats are courtesy of data provided by Ortec Sports.