The Motherwell manager doesn’t give it a nothing-to-see-here over top scorer – and the league’s leading goal-plunderer – Tony Watt signing a pre-contract agreement with Dundee United while, as yet, still being on the books at Fir Park. But he maintains as long as this continues to be Watt’s situation, relations with the forward will remain normal on Lanakrshire. Yet the 28-year-old has only failed to feature in one Motherwell game this season – and Watt’s absence from the 1-1 draw at home to Livingston on Boxing Day was a direct consequence of it previously breaking that he had committed his long-term future to the Tannadice club. There is no bad feeling, though, and no possibility of the striker will be ostracised over the coming months should United not pony up with a fee persuading Motherwell to part with their attacking fulcrum in the January window. All of which he imparted to Watt as soon as the player returned to training following illness last week.
“I had a 15-minute chat with him,” Alexander said. “He was looking forward to joining in at training again and I had a conversation with him about why he’d been left out against Livingston after the news about his move to Dundee United – the timing of which has yet to be decided – became public knowledge. Tony’s assured me that he’ll crack on and be committed to Motherwell as long as he’s our player, and that’s all I ask of anyone. All the players are at different stages of leaving the club – because they all do eventually, whether it’s next week, in six months or three years from now. But while they’re here I expect that commitment and I don’t anticipate anything different from Tony. I felt it was the right decision to take him out of the team for that one game because the story had just come out but, if he’s still here when we play Ross County on January 18, then he’ll be in contention.”
There appears no real sense Watt will change clubs before the summer. His nine-goal return has been central to Motherwell ensconcing themselves in the top four of the cinch Premiership. To lose that goal source has the potential to contribute to a slide depriving them of significant prize money, the difference in each placing in section of the table around £150,000 to £200,000. United wouldn’t be likely to pay more than that for a player who will be theirs by the season’s end. “United spoke to Alan Burrows, our chief executive, to discuss Tony’s situation once the news came out,” said Alexander. “Alan’s been upfront with them and painted the picture for what it is, which is that we’re in no rush to let Tony go. He’s under contract until the summer and he’s the top scorer in the Premiership. He’s played every game bar one for me during my year in charge so he’s a valued member of our team and our squad. If anyone wants to take him away this month then there’s a premium to pay and that’s the same for every player at the club. I think he wants to finish the season as the league’s highest goalscorer and that is still there for him, whether it’s with us or someone else.”
And if Motherwell remains Watt’s home beyond the window closing, there will be no awkward decision for Alexander to make when his team face up to Watt’s future employers on February 9 on Tayside. “At all the clubs I’ve managed, I’ve fallen out with players and things have been going on outside of football but, as long as they come in and train well, I’ll consider selecting them,” he said. “There are always issues that can muddy the waters and distract footballers but, ultimately, players want to train and play. They’re paid to do that, so, if Tony is still with us when we play United, I’d have no qualms whatsoever about picking him.”
Neither is Alexander other than philosophical about Watt effectively turning his back on Motherwell, despite the stability and contentment they have afforded him to reignite a career previously stunted by a certain restlessness. ‘I’ve been there as a professional myself and you have to marry your professional ambitions and your love for your job and your club with providing for your family and your future,” he said. “That decision can change as you get older and understand life and your career. That’s why none of us can sit as managers and ex players and say that the money side doesn’t come into it as we all want to earn good money and provide for our families. There’s a balance.
“I don’t know every individual player’s personal circumstances and I certainly don’t know their mortgages, bank balances and outlays so I respect that every man has to make a decision in terms of what’s right for him. I understand the contract he will sign is worth considerably more than we could offer. That’s the scenario. The football situation could be argued from both sides. I’m not surprised as I’ve been in the game a long time and I made difficult decisions in my own career. I’m not disappointed either. Tony is fully committed to his football at Motherwell while he’s being paid by Motherwell. I think you have to treat players as adults and, to be fair to Tony, he came to me to let me know that this was happening before anyone else knew anything about it. Fair play to him for that. I’ve always been honest with my players and I expect to get that back. Tony was upfront about it and I respect that. He has talked about the home he’s found here but sometimes you have to move home."