Tony Watt finds his calling at Parkhead after council handed him his P45
AS HIBERNIAN’S defence may discover to their cost this afternoon, North Lanarkshire Council’s loss is proving to be Celtic’s gain as young Tony Watt finds his true calling in life.
In fairness to the local government organisation who handed him an administrative apprenticeship when he left school two years ago, they probably aren’t missing Watt too much.
Asked what he did in when he was in their employment, the Coatbridge-born teenager replied: “Nothing.”
So it is probably no surprise he was handed his P45 when he decided to take an unauthorised leave of absence to spend what proved to be a fruitless few days on trial with Liverpool.
Such is the unlikely path Watt has taken to become a Celtic player, one whose recent emergence has thrilled the club’s support and provided manager Neil Lennon with a potent attacking option for the season ahead.
Still only 18, Watt scored twice in his first starting appearance for the first team at Inverness last Saturday and impressed once more with his dynamic contribution as a substitute in Wednesday night’s Champions League Play-off round triumph over Helsingborgs at Celtic Park.
An £80,000 capture in January 2011 from Airdrie United, with whom he finally realised his ambition of playing professional football after replying to an advertisement for trialists in a bounce match, it seems remarkable that Watt was not spotted at a younger age by some of Scotland’s bigger clubs.
But perhaps a clue to his relatively late discovery comes in what he admits is not the strongest level of self-belief. Fortunately for the likeable teenager, it is a flaw which only seems to manifest itself on the training ground.
“Sometimes when I’m training with the first team, I do something wrong and it just sticks in my head,” said Watt. “It starts playing on your mind. I’ve been told by everyone that I’m not a ‘training player’. But if I can do it in the games, then I’ll be happy.
“Confidence in training and confidence in matches are different. When you are on the pitch, you can’t afford to let yourself think about things going wrong. You’ve just got to go out and give your all.
“Before the Inverness game, the manager told me to clear my mind and told me I was good enough for it. He told me I could go out and be a handful for any defence. Luckily, I had a good game up there and hopefully I can keep it going.
“I spoke to my Dad and my former manager at Airdrie (Jimmy Boyle) this week and said ‘would you have expected all this for me two years ago?’ To be fair, they both said ‘Aye’. But I would have thought you were having a laugh if you said I’d be playing for Celtic now.
“When I left school, I just started going to the gym every day and looked to pursue a career in football. I got an office job with North Lanarkshire Council, an apprenticeship, but I got sacked for going down to Liverpool for a trial. The office told me to choose one or the other, so I said ‘see you later’.
“The teachers at school asked me why I wasn’t staying on at school and when I told them I wanted to be a footballer, they just laughed at me. There were a lot of things like that, people not believing in me. But my Dad was always 100 per cent behind me, even when I lost my job. He encouraged me to keep trying to make it in football if that was what I wanted.
“I wasn’t confident of making it into Celtic’s first team. I thought I’d get three good years on the books here and then have to step down a level. But now I could be up against Messi and Iniesta in the Champions League this season. It’s unreal. I just need to not think about it until the day comes and then hopefully I can be involved. If not, then it’s not meant to be, but hopefully I can work hard and be in the manager’s thoughts for it.”
The SPL may offer more serious first-team opportunities for Watt in the shorter term, starting with today’s early-season top-of-the-table visit of Hibs to Celtic Park.
“Although I came on late in the game against Rangers at home at the end of last season, I never touched the ball, so this would be my home league debut if I play,” he said. “Wednesday night at Celtic Park was great, coming on in a Champions League match.
“I created a couple of chances and never gave the ball away, so I was happy with that. When you have good players around you, like Gary Hooper, Scott Brown and Victor Wanyama, you are going to feel comfortable. They do their jobs and you need to be up to their standards or they’ll tell you about it.
“Hopefully I’ll play in a few SPL games over the next few weeks. I’ll do as much as I can to stake a claim for a place in the team. I just don’t get ahead of myself. It’s not about putting myself down, but being self-critical helps me become a better player.
“If I’m bad at something I’ll try to work to improve at it. I won’t say I’m brilliant at something when I’m not.”
So how does he think his career trajectory would have panned out had he decided to commit himself to North Lanarkshire Council instead?
“I’d probably be in my bed doing nothing.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West