From Barcelona to Belgium: the rise and fall of Celtic’s Tony Watt

The story of Tony Watt and how he went from Champions League hero to Celtic Park outcast is a sad one, but is there a way back for the 19-year-old?

When Neil Lennon’s team welcome Barcelona to Parkhead next month one player who starred during the Catalans’ previous visit to Glasgow will be absent: Tony Watt.

Last November, the Celtic boss threw the then 18-year-old into the fray with 18 minutes to go and the score 1-0 to the Hoops. To casual observers it was a gamble, but for fans of Scottish football the move was the culmination of a whirlwind rise to the top.

Signed from Airdrie United in January 2011 for £80,000, Watt represented one of the bright young hopes of Scottish football and set about delivering on that promise with two goals in on his Celtic debut against Motherwell in April.

Two more followed in his first start for the club against Inverness in August and soon the talk around Celtic Park was of an exciting goalscorer with the potential to match the greats.

That ability was on display for the entire world to see that November, as Watt made the most of his cameo appearance against the Catalans, finishing off a counter-attacking move to put Celtic two goals up against Barcelona.

Flash forward to last weekend and Watt was back doing what he does best: scoring goals. Only this time, the he wasn’t turning out in the familiar green-and-white strip but instead the black-and-gold of Belgian Pro League side Lierse SK.

Though only a loan, the transfer represents a step down from the dizzying heights of his Champions League debut that has left many neutrals perplexed.

Speaking after his Lierse debut new manager Stanley Menzo offered up one view on just why the Scot has failed to kick on with his career.

“I think he [Watt] has talent. But he has to do more with that talent,” he told reporters,

“It is not just about scoring goals. Of course, we want him to score goals. But he won’t score the goals he can score because physically he’s not good.”

Lennon certainly appears to concur that a lack of fitness was in part to blame, with the Northern Irishman laying the responsibility squarely at the feet of the 19-year-old.

"It is essential for someone his age to want to every day get better and every day improve his game,” he told BBC Sport.

Whether Watt has the mentality for the challenge remains to be seen with the Scot demonstrating an egotistical side during a Daily Mail interview in which he detailed his experiences of a trial with Liverpool.

“I didn't really like the attitude of some of the coaches and the way they treated you. I was just like another fish in the pond for them,” he recalled.

Watt failed to land a deal at Anfield on that occasion and in recent months he’s seen his playing time for Celtic become increasingly limited with fitness and attitude concerns seemingly playing a part.

Lennon’s own faith in the player appears to be wavering with Celtic moving to sign young strikers Teemu Pukki and Amido Balde over the summer, while Watt remains in the dark as to whether he fits into the manager's plans.

If the 19-year-old wants to be seen as a big fish, he may need to do a lot of growing in Belgium.

image: © celticphotos

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