Tommy Wright has made Tony Watt his second signing of the transfer window and he could turn out to be one of the best of the summer, writes Joel Sked.
“Here comes Tony Watt! What a moment for Watt... Tony Watt drills the ball past Victor Valdes! Neil Lennon is on the verge of greatness. Celtic Football Club are on the verge of one of their greatest ever triumphs against one of the greatest ever club sides.”
When a football career comes to an end, being remembered for a memorable winning goal against Barcelona in the Champions League is quite the feat to be proud of. Just making it as a professional football is hard enough, but for Tony Watt to score such a goal 52 days before his 19th birthday for the team he supports is akin to strolling into nirvana.
It is a goal which is brought up at the very mention of his name. No interview with the player can be complete without reference to it. At times it is even used as a stick to beat the player, to question the trajectory of his career.
From Celtic to Belgium to the English Championship, back to Scotland then England again then another move to Belgium. Still only 24, he finds himself back in Scotland with St Johnstone.
It is a career which has been affected by uncertainty, injury and misjudgment. A career of ‘what ifs’ and looking back thinking what could have been done differently.
Watt is now at a point where dwelling on the past is unhelpful. It is now time to put all efforts into looking forward and getting his career back on track, fulfilling the potential which exists within him. And in a club like St Johnstone, a manager like Tommy Wright, he might finally have found the right place at the right time.
Earlier in the year it was thought that Watt may link up with Derek McInnes. The Aberdeen manager was keen on the player when he left Celtic for Lierse and opened the doors for him to train when he was without a club after leaving Leuven in February. Yet, the only link was McInnes and Watt sharing the same agent.
By training with Aberdeen Watt has stayed in shape, readying himself for pre-season. A picture the player shared online last month showed him in lean condition.
Still, without game time since September, he may be viewed as a risk, with the way he has bounced around clubs further evidence.
That is the market St Johnstone, and many other clubs, shop in. There are those reliable players they can recruit who can make the team marginally better without much expectation. Then there are those players who have had their troubles but possess undoubted talent. In the right environment those players can thrive and raise the team to another level.
“I think St Johnstone is the kind of club who have given people a chance in the past,” Watt told The Courier.
Under the watchful eye of Wright, Danny Swanson and Michael O’Halloran are the obvious examples, while David Wotherspoon, Liam Craig and Joe Shaughnessy have all excelled in Perth.
Watt’s struggles are a blessing for St Johnstone, who would not have been able to get a player to such quality in previous seasons. It wasn’t so long ago he was called up to the Scotland squad. With a lack of striking talent in the country, he will be given a platform to help him try and get back to that level.
To do so he needs to be played in his strongest position as a striker and trusted. Wright has given positive noises that he will be given the keys to the attack. Without Steven MacLean Saints are looking for a new focal point. David McMIllan and Chris Kane had their moments in the second half of last season but they are not at the same level as Watt.
Watt is a completely different player to MacLean. He needs to be closer to and facing goal to get exert the very best out of him, something which was an issue at Hearts.
At Tynecastle he too often looked like he was being asked to play as a No.10 but would then try to do too much. Going from world beater to frustrated figure in the space of seconds, whether it be indecision or poor finishing.
For St Johnstone, he is the closest they have come to replacing Stevie May. He has that chutzpah in possession to try something different. He is capable of leading the defence a merry dance before finding the back of the net. He can stretch defences laterally and vertically. He is technically excellent, moving with the ball as if it is glued to his feet.
The biggest issue the player faces is himself. In a revealing interview with Si Ferry for Open Goal, it was stark how much Watt thought about the worst case scenario. He needs the trust of his manager to succeed, of having a positive words to help his mindset.
“He told me he wants me, told me where he wants me to play and he’s also told me what he doesn’t want from me,” said Watt. “The manager has just told me the truth. He’s been up front about everything and that’s what I wanted to hear from someone. Sometimes you need someone to just be truthful with you.”
For St Johnstone he brings pizazz to an attack which is somewhat lacking after the departures of MacLean, George Williams and Matty Willock. He is a player who will excite the crowd. Even during dull, stodgy games, Watt, like May before him, is liable to produce a bit of magic to get fans of their feet.
Defensively, Saints look solid and robust, while there are players in midfield who can provide Watt with ammunition, namely David Wotherspoon and Stefan Scougall. Without putting too much pressure on the new signing, he could be that talismanic figure which elevates St Johnstone.
It is a signing which, on paper, suits all parties. At 24, Watt still has plenty of his best days ahead of him. If he makes a start in Perth St Johnstone could return to the top six.