Tony Watt is at a loss to explain his bad-boy image but the new Hearts striker is intent on altering perceptions before the latest campaign is done.
Signed on a season-long loan from Charlton Athletic, he initially shot to prominence when he broke through at Celtic in 2012 and went on to score the winning goal against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Still a teenager at the time, he was hailed as the next big thing, but since then he has been dogged by negativity, with coaches at club and international level questioning his fitness levels and his attitude.
Watt says the criticism is unfounded and having added Belgian sides Lierse and Standard Liege to a CV that also includes loan spells at Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers, the Scotland international is happy to rely on his talent to prove the snipers wrong.
“I think it’s unwarranted but people talk, that’s just a part of life,” he said. “The only people’s opinions that matter to me are the people I’m working with every day and my family. People can say whatever they want to say about me but, if you really look at it, my record, wherever I’ve been, has been alright. I’m not a 20-goal-a-season player, but I can bring that to my game.”
That goal against the stars of La Liga four years ago catapulted him to a new level of fame, which he admits was tough for a lad who had only been involved in the professional game for a couple of years to deal with, but he says that the stop-start nature of his career since has been due to a bit of bad luck, transfer embargoes and injuries, rather than big fall-outs with managers.
“If you want to be at a club like Celtic, you need to be mentally strong,” he added. “I can’t use any excuses for anything that’s happened. I just want to work hard and make sure people start talking differently about me.
“I think you learn more from the negatives. If everything is going well you are in a comfort zone, but when you are being attacked and attacked... Everyone is talking about this bad-boy reputation. It’s hard, but I don’t know where that has come from. I’m here to work. I went to Belgium to try to kick on but I think it’s here that it will start. Touch wood, if I get an injury-free season.
“I feel I’m in a blessed position and that I was born talented and I am using that the best I can. I have had a bit of bad luck here and there but I still feel I have done so much in my career in the last four years and I know it is now just starting, that’s why I came to Hearts and I know that if I work hard then I will kick on again. I know what I can do. There’s no secret about that. I just need to get my head down and work with the gaffer and the boys.”
Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee, pictured, was one of those who has said he wants to see more from the striker but Watt says there is no bad blood between the two.
“[My attitude] has been questioned by a couple of managers who I never really got on with,” said Watt. “But the Mark McGhee thing, I’ve spoken to him twice since then and he said that got taken out of context and that it was a bit tongue in cheek.
“It was maybe because I wasn’t a good trainer the first time I went with Scotland, but sometimes you need to learn for yourself. I’ve learned. I’ve worked hard and hopefully improved that side of my game.”
The move north has been a bonus, affording him the chance to move back closer to his family, and the opportunity to play for a manager who has painted a positive picture of the season ahead.
“I’ve played in front of big crowds before so the demands of fans doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I hear it’s a sell-out all the time at Tynecastle – that’s a good thing because it makes you thrive.
“It was the same down at Charlton – it’s a big club, just like Cardiff and Blackburn. These clubs expect you to do well, and I did OK last season when I played. It was just a bit stop-start with injuries and being in and out of the team. At Blackburn I never started as much as I would like, but eventually I started getting a chance and then I did my groin. It’s football – you get ups and downs. I’ve just got to get on with it and kick on this season. That’s why I’ve come back closer to home. The manager’s sold the dream to me – he told me his vision for the club and I liked it. I could have gone to another club in England, but it just wasn’t for me.”