EXCLUSIVE – Celtic-loanee Tony Watt: “I never got a fair chance from the press”

Tony Watt couldn’t have chosen a better fixture to make his impact at Celtic and endear himself to fans of the Bhoys. On the 7th November 2012, Tony Watt entered the fray in the Champions League against Barcelona in the 77th minute, taking  six minutes to find what would turn out to be a memorable winner against one of La Liga’s finest. Flying high after that moment, Celtic chose to extend the contract of their talented striker until 2016, just a week later. Watt had already made a good impression on his first start for Celtic, bagging two goals in their away game against Inverness. A new star was born in the eyes of Celtic faithful, with his strike against Barcelona merely cementing that view. However, Celtic was patient with their youngster.

You always hope that you will get a chance at your club when the season starts. But I knew that it was going to be difficult so a season-long deal was probably the best for me

Still only 18-years old, Tony Watt still had a lot to learn. The attacker started nine times for Celtic in 2012-2013, coming on as a substitute 11 times. Not bad for an 18/19 year old striker but everybody knew that he had to play more the coming season should he live up to his lofty billing. Unfortunately for Watt, opportunities weren’t forthcoming in Glasgow with new signings made and he soon found himself out on loan at Lierse, somewhat different surroundings to Parkhead.

“You always hope that you will get a chance at your club when the season starts. But I knew that it was going to be difficult so a season-long deal was probably the best for me. Lierse SK was not the only interested team but I wanted to join them. I took the decision myself.” Watt joined the Antwerp-based club on a season-long deal on the final day of the window, with the Belgian media caught off-guard with Lierse’s swoop for him, with many surprised that a Celtic talent would make the move. The press wanted to know more about Tony Watt and started to delve into his past. Before he even started one game, he was destined to be the new “enfant terrible” of the Jupiler Pro League.

“I never got a fair chance from the press, I was already in the papers before I touched a ball in Belgium,” Watt tells us, before adding that the move away from Glasgow was a big change for him. “I’ve learned the most from coach Jimmy Boyle who trained me at Airdrie United”, Watt tells www.benefoot.net.  The Scottish striker played with the Diamonds before joining Celtic in January 2011.  The striker also had a trial with city rivals Rangers but decided to join Celtic after all. Liverpool and Fulham were one of the few interested Premier League clubs.

In a short space of time, Watt has learnt a lot about industry in Belgium. “[I’ve learnt] that I need to work hard. I was very unlucky so far with injuries and didn’t have that much playing time,” he explains. “I hope that I can show my talent the next couple of weeks.” Moving abroad at such at a young age is a huge commitment for a footballer, one which Watt admits has been difficult, but he still has contact with Celtic, albeit “not a lot”. He has had to make do with cameo appearances from the bench (six times) for the most part, starting just once.

Watt’s impact as a substitute has had varying affects but has certainly been dramatic. He managed to score within 92 seconds of coming onto the field against Kortrijk, but was also sent off within 40 seconds against Charleroi. Referee Christof Virant showed Watt a red card for what he thought was an elbow, but the Scottish youngster was an innocent party with Ederson going down rather easily. The ban wasn’t upheld. “The Jupiler Pro League is a good league. There are some good teams but the league is quite even for the rest. Everybody can beat everybody”, said the young striker. “The defenders are also more comfortable on the ball in Belgium. They don’t kick the ball away like they do in Scotland,” he adds, indicating perhaps that he has had to adapt as a striker.

Tony Watt

Watt has also had to adapt to a new coach, Stanley Menzo and a new regime. His issues with Menzo have been well documented in the Belgian and Scottish press, with Watt being sent home from training twice. Menzo has demanded more discipline from Watt as well, saying he has to work harder if he is to succeed. “I’m just getting back into fitness. I really need to be 100%.” said the Scottish striker. Tony Watt is doing everything what it takes to get in a good shape again. When asked to compare Stanley Menzo and Neil Lennon as coaches, Watt said the two are different, but have some similarities.

“They’re both “old school” type of coaches and they focus on discipline. But the style of play is different to Belgium as it is in Scotland, so they need to be different types of managers.” When pressed on whether his coaches have been too hard on him, Watt says “that’s just football”. “Those things happen everywhere. Coaches can be too hard. I came here to Lierse and it started off with my name being in the newspapers before I’d even kicked a ball [saying] I was lazy, I don’t think that’s fair. I think I should be given time, I’m just a young lad, I should get time to settle in, it’s hard being away from home. At that point, I was with my cousin. I just wanted time to play and I started off with negativity around me and you need to fight that. Hopefully I can fight it.”

Though he’s only been in Belgium for a few months, Watt has picked out Anderlecht player Matias Suarez as the league’s standout footballer. “He’s a top player! It’s a shame that he’s injured for such a long period.” When asked him about his favourite players ever he picked two. “I would go for Didier Drogba and Henrik Larsson.” We could all expect that Tony Watt, who grew up in Scotland, would be a big fan of Henrik Larsson. The Swedish striker will always be a legend for the Celtic fans, and one Watt would hope to emulate. Moving to a Belgian mid-table side is likely to affect your international career you would think, but Watt isn’t thinking of national selection at the moment. “I’m not too concerned about that to be honest. The most important thing now is club football at this moment. If I do well things will go the good direction.” Watt was called up this year in June for the Scottish national team for the Croatia game, but hasn’t had a call-up since, perhaps indicative of his move.

We couldn’t leave Watt without touching upon that night in the Champions League, and whether the fans expected too much from him too soon. “No, I think they expected just enough but I didn’t play much games together anymore after that match.” “If I retire I want to have scored a lot of goals and won a lot of trophies. For this season, I also want to score as much goals as I can. I will do my best to succeed here in Belgium so I can become a better player for Celtic.” Lierse SK could use a fully-fit Tony Watt banging in the goals. The club have only scored fifteen times in sixteen matches in the competition. They don’t have have many other options. Dolly Menga and Watt are the only real number 9’s in Stanley Menzo’s squad, with both players having run-ins with their coach. Hard work will pay off for Tony Watt and we all hope that his star will shine soon here in Belgium!

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