Hearts new boy Tony Watt is baffled by his negative public profile and insisted that his “bad-boy” reputation is “unwarranted”.
The 22-year-old striker has failed to settle at any club for a sustained period of time and has been the subject of occasional barbs from his managers, most notably the Lierse coach, Stanley Menzo, who branded him “lazy and unfit” during a spell on loan with the Belgian side from boyhood club Celtic in 2013.
After subsequently failing to establish himself at Standard Liege or Charlton Athletic – who loaned him to Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff last season, before allowing him to go to Hearts for the upcoming campaign – Watt has been unable to shake off the perception that he is a wasted talent with an attitude problem. However, the Scotland internationalist contests such suggestions and claims that most of the managers he has worked under would vouch that he is no training-ground troublemaker.
“When you are being attacked and attacked, and in the media everyone is talking about this bad-boy reputation, it’s hard,” he said. “I don’t know where that has come from. 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.
“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’s only been questioned by a couple of managers who I never really got on with. All the big managers I’ve worked with have been brilliant and given me good reviews.”
Quotes attributed to Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee in March, following Watt’s recent international call-up, did little to aid the striker’s reputation. “He’s got unbelievable ability, he really has, he’s got tremendous ability,” said McGhee. “Yet he’s one of these boys who is not fit enough. He doesn’t train hard enough. I know that if you could get him to work hard in training, he would be a better player in the games. I remember saying, ‘I would love to work with you ever day’. And I would. He’s the sort of player I would love to get a hold of and really smack around!”
However, Watt insists McGhee’s words were misinterpreted and were based on his work ethic when he was first called into the Scotland squad three years ago, rather than a reflection of his present-day attitude.
“I’ve spoken to Mark McGhee twice since then and he said that got taken out of context and that it was a bit tongue in cheek,” Watt explained. “I’ve met him twice after that and he’s been brilliant with me. 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 gone away and worked hard and hopefully improved that side of my game. Now he’s seen that side of my game I think it would be a different interview now, after the Scotland squad rather than before it.”