Stephen Robinson believes Europa League entry shows the progress Motherwell have made in recent years as he provided an update on David Turnbull.
The Well face Glentoran of Robinson’s homeland Northern Ireland in the first round of Europa League qualifying this evening at Fir Park. They could go into the match without key man Turnbull, with the 21-year-old edging towards a move to Celtic. He missed training on Wednesday as the Steelmen prepared for their Glentoran task.
Speaking on Wednesday lunchtime ahead of the game, Motherwell’s boss said he wasn’t sure whether he’d have Turnbull to call upon in European football – but that won’t quell the delight he has for the young midfielder making a life-changing Celtic Park switch.
“I’m not sure at this stage. I’ve no idea where we’re at right now,” Robinson said of Turnbull being involved tonight. “I don’t get involved in the money side – but if he was valued at £3million last time he’s certainly a £3million player in my eyes. As a player, not just to me, David is a top, top talent and one of the best I believe Scotland will have ever produced. I can’t sing his praises high enough in terms of his mentality and his talent.
“But listen, we lose players every year. I make no mistake, David Turnbull is a top-class footballer but that is the model at Motherwell. That’s how we survive. We develop players, we’ve done that consistently over the last three and a half years. We sell players every single year.
“And we have spells where we don’t win games because that’s what happens when you develop players and things go round in circles. We’ve got eight new players in the team so it goes round. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer. I’m delighted for the players who move on because it’s tribute to the staff here and the work they do. We’ll be delighted if it happens – but if it doesn’t we’ve got a very talented boy.”
The Glens are a side Robinson knows well. Hailing from East Belfast in Northern Ireland, they are current Irish Cup holders and progressed to the Fir Park clash with a 1-0 win over HB Torshavn last week.
Robinson knows this won’t be a walk in the park when action kicks off but there was time for reflection before this. When the Northern Irishman arrived at Fir Park, the Well were facing relegation.
A few seasons on and now they have been to two cup finals, cleared debt and find themselves back in Europe for the first time in six years after a third-place finish. Whilst the start to this season hasn’t been great, not winning any of their first five matches, the Motherwell manager is pleased with the overall picture.
“I think I’ve worked with 90 per cent of the players at some stage with the Northern Ireland set-up,” Robinson said of the Glentoran players. “They’ve all grown up a wee bit and grown beards. What they are is group of guys with a point to prove. They are a team we will give the utmost respect to.
“A lot of them have come back from England for various reasons – injuries, bad luck, bad timing – but there’s talent there. Northern Irish football is on the up and a lot of heavy investment. They spent £40,000 on Ruaidhrí Donnelly having spent over £100,000 at Christmas. So we are well aware of what we’re coming up against and believe me there will be no surprise packages.
“I think some people have forgot where we were and where we’ve come from. I think we’ve brought, if all things go to plan, £7.5 million worth of players in whilst spending a minimal amount. That needs to continue, we are a developing football club. We develop players, we move them on. We’ve got assets in the team, we’ve got assets below the boys in the team and we will continue to do that, that’s where me and the staff get our kicks from.
“We get our pride from seeing players moving on and doing very well. We’ve probably bucked the trend a little bit in terms of finishing third and getting to cup finals as well as developing players, that’s hard to achieve.
“You need to play a certain type of football to develop players. When you do that, you take risks. So it’s nice when you see the recognition people like David Turnbull, Allan Campbell, James Scott etc get, that’s the buzz we get as a football club.”
Meanwhile, Glentoran boss Mick McDermott is looking forward to meeting mutual acquaintance Robinson. The Oval boss says that Northern Irish managers like Motherwell’s are an inspiration to aspiring bosses in the country, reflecting on Glentoran’s own battle from financial ruin to European football.
“I’ve never actually met Stephen but I’ve been in communication with him for a couple of years as we have some mutual friends,” said McDermott. “I think there was one point where there were five or six Northern Irish Scottish Premiership managers. It’s a good development ground for Northern Irish managers, a great step for them. It’s a great league to be in and Stephen’s done a great job here, as have the other managers.
“I need to give Stephen credit for finishing third last year. I don’t want to say it was a miracle but it was a really good push from him. It’s no secret Glentoran have struggled financially the last 10 years. But where we’ve come from since our takeover in July last year…
“We were almost £2 million in debt and had no full-time players. I now have a squad of 16 full-time players. We were written off as potential relegation fodder. We were one point out of third when the pandemic hit and we are Irish Cup champions and have won a game in Europe.
“Where we’ve come from in a 12-month period is a credit to the players, the people behind the scenes and our investor. The club has come a long way against a lot of odds and criticism. We now have a good platform where Glentoran can get back to where they were in the 70s and 80s.”