What’s up with Tony Watt?

This is an extract from an article published in "Nutmeg" - The Scottish Football Periodical

"The young striker repeatedly twists and turns by the corner flag, the ball seemingly glued to his feet, hypnotising two defenders, deftly using a team-mate as a decoy. His unexpected Cruyff-style change of direction catches the referee by surprise, forcing the official to hop sideways. Enough is enough: the infuriatingly skilful craftsman is hacked down. Then again. And again. Three wild fouls, two yellow cards for the opposition and a couple of throw-ins later, his team are two minutes and 22 seconds closer to a vital 2-1 win. The chants of the crowd ring out more loudly with every passing second: “Olé, olé, olé, olé, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt.” Then comes the novel addendum in an exaggerated South East London twang, “You wot, you wot, you wot, you wot, you wot?” Now hobbling, but encouraged by his fans, Tony Watt of Charlton Athletic is double-footedly taking on the injury-time clock as well as Nottingham Forest. The only hoops on display are the red and white ones on his socks. The official CAFC clip of Watt v The Clock has become a YouTube hit, watched almost 400,000 times.

The scene described above took place in March 2015, almost 28 months on from that goal; the goal which plucked the lad from Coatbridge-obscurity into the European spotlight; the goal which reduced Rod Stewart to tears; the goal which enthused commentator Ian Crocker to anoint the scorer as an instant legend; the goal which has seemingly become an ever-increasing-burden on the itinerant player’s shoulders. While some of his high school pals may have celebrated their coming of age by swaggering into the offie to buy booze legally for the first time, this precocious 18-year-old danced his way into the headlines: teenage Tony Watt – once again to quote Crocker – “taking his place in Celtic folklore” as Barcelona-giant-slayer.
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The question persists: is Tony Watt destined to follow the journeyman’s downhill path of other fledgling Celtic flair players? Watt undoubtedly possesses abundant natural talent. That much was obvious from his two goals within five minutes of first appearing as a Celtic sub in April 2012, having signed a year before from Airdrie for around £100,000. But eight clubs in six years, including three in the second half of last season, might suggest that this former Bhoy’s gift of magic feet comes at a frustrating cost.

The Brothers Grimm once wrote of fairy-tale princesses under a spell to dance all night, wearing out a pair of shoes every time. Whilst no slur is intended on Watt’s masculinity, the resemblance seems more than cursory. On the ball, he is a livewire, a look of passion and determination on his face. Yet there is somehow an air that he is not in control of his own destiny, condemned to perform his magic in one place after another, having to start afresh on each occasion.

In a corner somewhere lies his discarded heap of rainbow-singing football boots: red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue. In the Grimm fable, the king calls for a saviour to solve the riddle of the princesses’ endless dancing, promising fame, fortune and choice of bride to the successful contender. Prince after handsome prince takes up the challenge without success, each meeting the abrupt consequence of public beheading. Many of Watt’s mentors and coaches over the past few years, having failed to sort out the enigma of the dancing footballer, have lost their heads, albeit in less dramatic fashion.
Now his home is where the Hearts are. Having been tried for size by a whole host of managers, the hero’s mantle transfers to Robbie Nielson. Will the Jambos’ boss be the one who finally solves the riddle of the dancing footballer?

Curve-ball time. When Andy Murray first emerged as a young professional, the teenage tennis starlet clearly possessed exceptional skill. He was also prone to public displays of moodiness, self-centred outbursts and physical cramps. Even many years on, having reached the pinnacle of his sport, these traits resurface now and then when things are not going to plan. Murray can’t completely change his character but we are forgiving because he has a string of achievements as testament to realised talent. He continues to work hard and improve. He’s got a weighty monument to his success in the shape of a golden post box in his Dunblane home town. Watt, on the other hand, has a brief film of a Europe-shattering goal, an ephemeral moment, a few fleeting seconds.

It’s easy to think of a footballer as a pawn on the chessboard of the beautiful game, plucked from one squad, plonked down into another. Watt’s career to date has certainly suffered more than most from that. His confidence has surely taken many hits with all the moving about and struggles to settle. At times he has been the victim of lousy circumstance. Having played this year for Duchâtelet’s Charlton, Vincent Tan’s Cardiff and the Venkys’ Blackburn, he’s better placed than most to tell tales about eccentric football owners.

The man from Coatbridge could do worse than study the dedicated and single-minded road to fame and fortune taken by Dunblane’s local hero. Watt is a talented 22-year-old athlete. By all accounts, he is a likeable person, a bit of a joker at times, quick-witted but also thoughtful and self-critical. He can be prone to mood swings. Andy Murray shares a lot of those traits. His way to channel things positively is to surround himself with trusted advisers - that onus, of course, is entirely on him as an individual sportsperson. Watt practices a team sport but that does not absolve him of personal responsibility. Could he be proactive off the pitch in assessing his own strengths and weaknesses, in seeking advice, maybe even finding his own mentor, be that a personal trainer or a sports psychologist?

Perhaps it’s time that Tony Watt stopped itching for some club manager or coach to sort him out, stopped itching for it all to click into place in the right squad, stopped itching for some spell to be lifted. There really is no valid comparison with the Brothers Grimm and fairy-tales of Dancing Princesses. Perhaps it is time Watt took his fate into his own hands – or into his own magic feet."

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