BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
TONY Watt insists he has already won round Scotland assistant Mark McGhee – now he is ready to show the rest of Scottish football he does not deserve a ‘bad-boy’ reputation.
The former Celtic striker has penned a season-long loan deal with Hearts after making it clear he wanted to leave parent club Charlton Athletic to be nearer to his family north of the border.
Now with his eighth team, including loan spells with Cardiff City and Blackburn Rovers last season, the 22-year-old is eager to start afresh and to enjoy a period of stability in a career that has been a whirlwind since his explosive winning goal for Celtic in the Champions League success against Barcelona in 2012.
He is also keen to alter the perceived wisdom that suggests his attitude – particularly to training – leaves a lot to be desired.
It was an issue raised by the likes of Neil Lennon at Celtic, then Scotland under-21 Billy Stark and Lierse boss Stanley Menzo, and repeated by McGhee back in March when Watt was called up to the full international squad.
McGhee branded him someone with ‘tremendous ability’ but the ‘sort of player I would love to get a hold of and really smack around’ because he ‘doesn’t train hard enough’.
Watt went on to make his full Scotland debut as a late substitute in the 1-0 win over the Czech Republic days later and, having been encouraged by subsequent chats with McGhee, admits international football is a goal if he can prove himself at Hearts.
Asked about his bad-boy reputation, Watt said: “I think it’s unwarranted but people talk, that’s just a part of life.
“The only people’s opinions that matter to me are the people I’m working with every day and my family. That’s all.
“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. Maybe I’m not a 20-goal-a-season player, but I can bring that to my game, I hope.
“My attitude has been questioned by a couple of managers who I never really got on with.
“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.
“He’s been brilliant with me. I’ve met him twice after that and all the big managers I’ve worked with have been brilliant and given me good reviews.
“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 gone away and worked hard and hopefully improved that side of my game.
“Now he (McGhee) has seen that side of my game I think it would be a different interview now, after the Scotland squad rather than before it.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself but obviously you dream of playing for your country and you dream of playing at the highest level.
“All I want to do is enjoy my football. I haven’t enjoyed it for a wee while and I just want to get back to doing that and then take it from there.”
Watt, whose competitive debut for Hearts could come against Celtic on Sunday week, may be forgiven for feeling the weight of that goal against Barcelona but insists he would not change such a special moment in his career.
If that was a huge positive, at least at the time, the former Airdrie United and Standard Liege striker is adamant any setbacks he has since suffered can also make him a better player.
“It was a bit hard but you’ve got to deal with it,” he said of the Barcelona hype. “If you want to be at a club like Celtic, you need to be mentally strong. 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 and everything is good you are in a comfort zone.
“But when you are being attacked and attacked, and in the media 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 it on but I think it’s here that it will start. Touch wood, if I get an injury free season, then I will get going.”