Being Tony Watt has always meant a high level of public scrutiny. One goal in 17 games on loan at Hearts saw the Scotland striker judged a failure, not for the first time. It is an accusation he strongly rejects.
Watt returned to parent club Charlton Athletic last month after his season-long stay at Tynecastle was cut short. He insists the move served its purpose and says he didn’t flounder in Edinburgh.
“A lot of people are saying ‘Hearts flop’ but I don’t think I was a flop. I think I did okay. I didn’t set the world alight but there’s always reasons for that,” explained Watt.
“Did it bother me hearing that? Not one bit. That’s from people who have no impact on my life. People are going to be negative about me. That’s just the way of the world. I don’t care. I don’t know if it’s bitterness, spite, jealousy, people are always going to be bad and say stuff. The only people who matter to me are my family and the people I work under.
“I’m not disappointed. I enjoyed my time at Hearts. Ian Cathro was brilliant with me and so was his assistant. They were all good with me. I wasn’t going to play the last four or five weeks and we had a conversation in early December.
“I told them going back to Charlton would be the best move for me. What was the point in getting injured and then Hearts having to pay my wages for the rest of the season?”
The former Celtic forward arrived in Gorgie in August to high expectations about what he might produce under the then-Hearts head coach, Robbie Neilson. He returned south after deciding he no longer wanted to play in Scotland.
“I had an injury [last spring]that lasted four months and I had never been injured in my life before,” recalled Watt. “I didn’t feel right in England and I wanted to come back and be near my family. I owe Hearts for helping me out but I needed to go back down. It was good for all parties because Hearts wanted to shake it up in the January transfer window. I don’t have one sour feeling towards Hearts. It is a great club that is going places.
“I thought I did well here in the first few months. I played well but then we tailed off a bit. It got to the stage where I knew being back home wasn’t for me. I spoke about it when Robbie Neilson was still here. Then when Cathro came in he knew my stance and I knew his.
“When I was playing we were in third or fourth position and I did okay. I was playing in a midfield role that I wasn’t suited to. I wasn’t playing in my normal role but I was doing it for the team and I enjoyed my time here. Hearts are a big club. They sell out every week. They’ve got a lot of good players and a good manager.”
Expectations surrounding Watt soared in November 2012 when he scored the winning goal against Barcelona on his Champions League debut for Celtic aged 18. They have remained lofty ever since, but he doesn’t feel burdened in any way.
“No, you set your own expectation levels. I don’t feel I was a failure at Hearts,” he reiterated. “We did well the first few games before changing our way of playing and I was out of position that whole time. That doesn’t bother me as long as the team is winning but then we changed our way of playing and I was out since November. But when I was playing we did okay. I’ve nothing to prove here. I’m happy to be back down south.”
It would have been understandable had he gone back to London with a degree of trepidation. Manager Karl Robinson promised to make Watt “sweat and cry” and apologise back at The Valley.
“I’ve left Charlton three times for different circumstances and the manager told me I had to apologise,” said Watt. “We had a conversation and it was dead in the water. There was nobody to apologise to. He took me down for a fitness test and came out in an interview and said he didn’t need to make me sweat and cry because I showed I wanted to do it. A few days later I was back in the squad. He’s been brand new since I went down there. It wasn’t a relief, not one bit. I back myself.
“People say it hasn’t happened for me but I went to Charlton for six months and did well and helped keep the club up. I went to Cardiff City and they tried to buy me but had a transfer embargo. I went to Blackburn and ripped my groin. That’s 20 months done and I can’t get them back. I didn’t have a pre-season [last summer] and you’re always trying to play catch-up.
“There are so many reasons I’ve been held back and people always ask why I haven’t done it. I’m 23 and, if you look over my career, there isn’t a failure in sight. I’ve never been relegated. I had to come back to Scotland in the summer for myself to get myself right and it’s part of a long process.
“I was out injured and I was never going to come back and just start hitting hat-tricks. I think I’ve had a good start to my career and there’s a lot more to come. I feel refreshed at Charlton. I’ve been at seven clubs but four have been on loan. Now it’s about staying at Charlton and getting a bit of consistency.”
Watt is convinced he will fulfil his undoubted potential and establish a regular place in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad.
“My career isn’t on the slide. I’m in a good place and getting back to match sharpness,” he continued. “I showed glimpses at Hearts of what I can do. I know it’s going to happen for me, I just need to bide my time and work hard. I will show everyone who has criticised me.
“Gordon Strachan wouldn’t have called me up [last year] if he didn’t like me because he doesn’t include bad eggs. Gordon Strachan has been amazing with me and you want to play for your country but I just need to get fit and get matches first.”
• Tony Watt was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.