In this week’s Scots abroad feature we take a look at the life and times of Tony Watt – one of the most talented young Scottish players of his generation – now plying his trade in the top flight of Belgian football, the Jupiler Pro League.
Watt broke onto the Scottish football scene as a talented 16-year-old playing for Airdrie. After a short spell in the Diamonds’ first team he moved to his boyhood heroes, Celtic, in January 2011 for £100,000.
The youngster from Coatbridge got off to the perfect start for the Hoops, netting a double in his debut against Motherwell, while he hit the headlines in November 2012 when he netted Celtic’s winning goal against Barcelona in a 2-1 victory at Parkhead. Scoring such a crucial goal, in such calm style, under such pressure? Watt had written himself into Celtic folklore and surely it was just the first of many iconic goals the striker would score for the Hoops.
Despite impressing in the brief chances he was given in the Bhoys first team he failed to establish himself as a regular under Neil Lennon who eventually farmed him out on loan to Lierse in Belgium, while Lennon’s successor Ronny Deila has gone one Belgian step further – selling the 20-year-old to Standard Liege in a £1.2million permanent deal.
Watt undoubtedly has the talent – he has proven that while playing for Airdrie, Celtic and Scotland under-21s as well as his time in Belgium – however, it is his attitude which has at times been called into question.
During his loan at Lierse, Celtic manager Neil Lennon said: “There’s an immaturity about Tony.
“He can be a difficult boy at times but there’s no malice in him. He just needs to knuckle down and make the most of the opportunity he has.”
Lierse coach Stanley Menzo branded him ‘lazy and unfit’, and sent him home from training twice after disagreements.
Watt felt his coach was treating him unfairly and said: “They don’t know how to deal with me at Lierse. Whenever we lose I get the blame, and they always say I do things wrong.
“Menzo has two sets of rules. But you can’t have different rules for different players. He clearly doesn’t like me.”
The club took a dim view of the Coatbridge kid’s comments and immediately demoted him to the B team for an ‘indefinite period’.
The row with Menzo came in March this year – just one month after Watt netted seven goals in five games – it is clear the talent is there but it equally clear that talent needs to be nurtured and embraced if a club want to get the best out of Watt.
The striker returned to Celtic this summer with a fresh chance under a new manager – could Ronny Deila be the man to get a tune out of Watt at Parkhead? The question was answer when the Celtic boss sold the youngster to Standard Liege in July, with Deila explaining: “Tony hasn’t progressed as we wanted so far and I think that’s because he hasn’ t been getting into the right culture, realising the consequences and changing his mentality.”
His dream career at Celtic may have come to a premature ending but Watt made an instant impact on his Standard Liege debut – winning an 88th minute penalty to help his new side to a 3-2 win away to Kortrijk.
Since then he has featured regularly in the Jupiler Pro League while he also came on as a 70th minute substitute against Feyenoord in the Europa League earlier this month.
At Standard, Watt may be enjoying a better run of first team football than he got at Celtic but the team have not been faring quite so well, they sit in the bottom half of the table and last weekend the club parted company with manager Guy Luzon.
Luzon was the man who signed Watt for Standard and he and Watt seemed to work well together, the Israeli was a manager who knew how to get the best out of the striker and the former Celtic man certainly appreciated the impact that Luzon was having on his career.
The decision on who replaces Luzon will of course be crucial for all of the Standard Liege squad, however, it is likely to be of even more importance for Watt as he enters a crucial period of his career – with the right guidance and leadership there is no reason we couldn’t see Watt thriving in Belgium and even coming into Gordon Strachan’s Scotland plans.