Hearts represent the best opportunity for Tony Watt to get his career on track and prove to everyone he’s dedicated to being the best footballer he can be, writes Craig Fowler
Everywhere Tony Watt has gone, accusations of the striker lacking professionalism have followed. Though he’s strenuously denied these allegations, such protestations have been drowned out by the cacophonous criticisms that have come his way from a variance of football managers.
Neil Lennon branded him “immature” after he left Celtic for a season-long loan at Lierse, where he would have a public falling out with manager Stanley Menzo. Upon his return to Celtic, new boss Ronny Deila questioned his dedication to training after shipping the striker out to Standard Liege. He would last only 12 months of his five-year contract with the Belgian giants before he was on the move again to Charlton. While there has been no public condemnation of Watt at Charlton, there was a “no smoke without fire” feel to his two loan spells last season, one to Cardiff and one to Blackburn, despite his parent club struggling at the foot of the English Championship table. And, finally, Mark McGhee bluntly stated Watt “doesn’t train hard enough” prior to the 22-year-old making his Scottish debut earlier this year.
If Watt has been treated unfairly by these waves of criticism then there’s only one thing he can do to silence them: show his dedication on the football field. He’ll now have the perfect opportunity to do so. He’ll be given every opportunity to make himself first pick on a team full of attacking talents but which lacks a little explosiveness in the final third.
In fairness, if Watt was someone who just wanted to laze about, gorge on munchy boxes and generally waste his prodigious talents, then Hearts is pretty much the worst club he could have picked. Ever since the new regime were installed by owner Ann Budge during the summer of 2014, Hearts have preached hard work, discipline, hard work, healthy living, and more hard work. They famously do triple-training sessions as head coach Robbie Neilson firmly buys into the belief that repetition is the route to success. If they can’t get Watt to achieve peak athletic fitness then, frankly, no-one will.
Given the mantra at Hearts, it’s perhaps surprising they’ve gone for a player with this reputation. Obviously they have confidence in their own ability to bring the best out of the attacker, or they agree with Watt that the constant jibes have been unfair.
They’ll see the player as a gamble worth taking. After all, this is only a one-year loan move and, regardless of whether it’s successful or not, that’s all it’s likely to be with Watt’s contract at The Valley running until the summer of 2018. Hearts are in the type of secure location within the Ladbrokes Premiership - almost certain to finish in the top half but unlikely to crack the top three prior to this move - where they can afford to roll the dice on a high risk, high reward signing.
Watt’s talents are immense. He’s quick and powerful, capable of running with the ball and beating defenders with his quick feet, all the while possessing a wicked shot. Charlton fans felt he had the talent to play in the English Premier League, an opinion backed by Gordon Strachan when he selected him for Scotland, believing Watt was the closest thing this country had to world class talent.
He’s never managed to put it all together, but if he does Hearts will have a tremendous player on their hands, someone capable of routinely getting the crowd on their feet. They were functional rather than fantastic on their way to securing third place last season, often drawing ire from sections of the support for not throwing caution to the wind. This signing is a strong indication they’re ready to take more chances. They’ve consolidated their place back among the big boys. Now it’s time for Watt to do the same.