Tony Watt has shrugged off suggestions that he failed at Hearts, claiming his performances during the six-month loan spell reflected his lack of match fitness as he journeyed back from an injury lay-off and the fact he was asked to play an unfamiliar role.
But, he says he does not regret his time in the capital and predicts a bright future for the team under the guidance of head coach Ian Cathro.
“You set your own expectation levels. But I don’t feel I was a failure at Hearts,” said the striker. “We did well the first few games before changing our way of playing and I was out of position that whole time. That doesn’t bother me as long as the team is winning. I’ve nothing to prove here. I’m happy to be back down south.
“A lot of people are saying I’m a Hearts flop but I don’t think I was a flop. I think I did okay. I didn’t set the world alight but there’s always reasons for that. Did it bother me reading or hearing people say that? Not one bit! That’s from people who have no impact on my life. People are going to be negative about me. That’s just the way of the world. I don’t care. I don’t know if it’s bitterness, spite, jealousy, people are always going to be bad and say stuff. But the only people that matter to me are my family and the people I work under.”
He has returned to parent club Charlton Athletic, convinced that he has unfinished business down south and determined to show the kind of goalscoring form that will have Scotland manager Gordon Strachan sitting up and taking notice again.
“I will show everyone who has criticised me,” added Watt. “Gordon Strachan wouldn’t have called me up if he didn’t like me because he doesn’t include bad eggs. Gordon Strachan has been amazing with me and you want to play for your country but I just need to get fit and get matches first.”
Watt isn’t the only one who has had his critics but he believes that Hearts head coach Cathro will also prove his doubters wrong. While his early return to England coincided with Cathro’s arrival at Tynecastle, he says there was no fall-out. In fact, he says he was impressed with the new regime. “I enjoyed my time at Hearts,” he said. “Ian Cathro was brilliant with me and so was his assistant [Austin MacPhee]. They were all good with me. But, I wasn’t going to play the last four or five weeks and we had a conversation about that in early December. I told them going back to Charlton would be the best move for me so what was the point in getting injured and then Hearts having to pay my wages for the rest of the season?”
But he recognised that he was leaving at an exciting time for the club, as early conversations convinced him Cathro knew what he needed to do to address weaknesses in the squad and improve on performances going into the second half of the season.
“I spoke to Ian Cathro and I said to him ‘we have a good squad with a lot of young players but we are losing to the big physical teams like St Johnstone’ and he agreed with me,” said Watt. “We had a lot of talented players but we needed leaders. We only had Don Cowie and Perry Kitchen so they have added experience and they are turning a corner. He’s got the right ideas and his training was fantastic. I really think he will go on and do well.”
Hearts brought in nine new faces in January, with Watt content that he played his part by moving back to England and clearing the way for a fresh acquisition. Among them are several experienced campaigners and early signs are encouraging, with a rampaging win over Rangers and a victory over Motherwell silencing many of those sceptical about Cathro.
“I know people in the papers were saying he is too young but when he goes and wins ten games in a row they will be hailing him as the new messiah. That’s just how it works,” said Watt. “People jump on you in football. If I had scored 20 goals I would not be this little whatever. But I think Ian Cathro will go on to have a top job in football.
“I was watching BT Sport and I saw people slagging him but I saw people standing up for him and I found that refreshing. Look at where he has been. You don’t get that experience if you don’t have a clue. Benitez could have sacked him straight away but he didn’t. He will have a good career.
“It’s about how you come in and command a room. If he had come in and acted like a little boy you would say: ‘come on’ but he came in and he’s done it right. It’s not about age. In two or three good years he will be worth a lot more than a 50 or 60-year-old manager is worth. He is the right appointment.”
Having missed out on the chance to sample a capital derby, Watt will be an interested observer on Sunday as two of his former managers go head to head. Neil Lennon was the man who gave him his big break at Celtic and sent him on to claim some glory with a Champions League goal against Barcelona. It hurtled Watt into the spotlight and while some believe he has been unable to fully live up to the high levels of expectations that performance generated, Watt is content with all he has achieved thus far and adamant that, aged just 23, he can go on to experience many more footballing highs.
“I was young when I played under Neil Lennon but he had his own philosophy as well and got the team playing,” he added. “That Celtic team was one of the best I’ve played in. Ian Cathro has a different style but they are both confident in their methods and they both want to win.
“It’s Ian Cathro’s first job and despite people talking about his man-management skills he knew how to get into someone’s head. He had a good way of taking people to the side to tell them they were doing it or not doing it. He’s only 30 years old but his age doesn’t matter. If you can relate to someone and they’re nice to you then you have to respect them. If they were 50 years old and didn’t have a good manner then you wouldn’t respect them. It’s not about the age – it’s about respect. I didn’t start a game under Ian Cathro but I honestly couldn’t speak more highly of him.”
While Lennon is seen as the more volatile operator, Watt says that having witnessed his dressing-room takedown after the team squandered a lead at Dens Park early in his tenure, he is sure that Cathro has that fire in his belly as well. “He comes across as being quiet but he’s got it in him to get angry,” said Watt. “You need to have that as a football manager. He’s certainly not weak. Neil Lennon’s angry side was maybe a bit more obvious but I couldn’t say a bad word about him either. I owe Neil Lennon a lot and it will be interesting to see the two going head to head on Sunday.
“Hibs are in a situation now where every team is out to beat them because it’s a cup final for all their opponents and that is difficult. But he’s been asked to take them up and they are at the top of the league and I’m sure they’ll give Hearts a good game at Tynecastle. It’s a close one to call.”
l Tony Watt was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.