So often as he entered The Valley pitch, those who occupied the stands would chant his name with a level of noise and meaning that made for a genuine message. A shared knowledge that this enigmatic figure required as much encouragement and appreciation as possible, and a strong desire for him to succeed in the colours of Charlton Athletic. Receptive, if not always in his performances, but always towards those who supported him.
And yet, often moments after his name had echoed around The Valley’s structures, there would soon be unforgiving and universally shared groans of displeasure. The flashes of quality occasionally seen made you want to believe he would reach the peak of his potential in SE7, but too often were the same infuriating errors being made. Tony Watt didn’t just divide a fan base, he split the minds of individual supporters.
So as the Scot, following three separate loan spells away in his two-and-a-half-years as an Addick, prepares to exit the club on a permanent basis, there is not the anger that may exist when a key player departs, nor the sarcastic celebrations when a poor one is allowed to leave.
Instead, there a disappointment that the best of Watt, having made 53 league appearances in Charlton colours, was seen on so few occasions. A regret that the 23-year-old did not become the player for the Addicks the occasional flashes of brilliance suggested he could have been. A frustration that, having originally moved to the South East London branch of Roland Duchatelet’s network from Standard Liege, Watt heads for a second spell in Belgium, with Lierse his apparent destination, having failed to get anywhere near fulfilling his potential in SE7.
Potential that, regardless of how you feel towards the Scot as he departs, there is no question was shown. Many will point to that marvellous moment of skill that saw him keep the ball in the corner against Nottingham Forest, and I think the focus on that has left some forgetting that he did provide further contributions. His general form in that period, particularly in performances either side of the Forest game in victories over Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, was outstanding.
So too was there the sensational start from Watt to the 2015/16 season, with the opening goal of the season in a victory over QPR and a long range, though somewhat deflected, effort during a visit to Derby County. “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt, Watt” was sung with some vigour at Pride Park. A connection with supporters always existing to some degree.
I remember, quite explicitly, Watt standing in front of the away end on his own at Vicarage Road applauding the visiting supporters following the shambolic 5-0 defeat there in January 2015. It coming after Guy Luzon, a network appointment that brought resentment and revolt among supporters, had been given the head coach gig. The sort of player-supporter interaction so desperately needed.
I don’t think, therefore, there can be argument that supporters have not given Watt the opportunity to succeed each time he returned, and each time he wore Charlton colours. An opportunity he continued to be given, in part, because of the Scot’s willingness to acknowledge such support, and as such a desire among many supporters for him to perform. Frustration a regular response to Watt’s reaction, but never have supporters turned against him, and never has his name not been sung.
But maybe there’s an argument, not least given the fact his spells on loan at Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Hearts between November 2015 and January 2017 had just one appearance for Charlton sandwiched between them, that he wasn’t given a fair opportunity to prove himself by those in charge. Or at least, having been sent away on so many occasions, the conditions and circumstances at The Valley were not right for him to succeed. After that blast of brilliance at the start of the 2015/16 season, Watt faded at a dramatic rate, but maybe the action that would have provided the greater result for club and player would have been to stand by him.
That chance given to him by Karl Robinson upon his return from Hearts last season, and Watt generally did well. Largely utilised as a winger, and making his greater impressions from the bench, he made useful runs with the ball at his feet and appeared a threat. Not simply because he scored twice, but his overall play in the trio of home games against Scunthorpe United, Walsall, and Bradford City was impressive.
But so too were there dire efforts, where he appeared devoid of all quality, energy and intelligence. That two of those performances were against Peterborough United and MK Dons, two defeats that left the Addicks four points from the bottom four with five games to play, hardly helped his cause. Some promising signs seen, but back-to-back grim displays in these circumstances made what had gone before almost meaningless; the frustration of Watt in a nutshell.
Maybe that in part a motivation to make his pre-season successful, as it appeared it was. He certainly continued to make a point of it on social media, and given the criticism he has received throughout his career for being unfit I see no reason why he shouldn’t. Alas, after his name was sung as he stepped onto The Valley turf against Bristol Rovers, home supporters groaned as he failed to close down opposition defenders, and back to square one we all seemed to go.
Nonetheless, it a disappointment to see him depart with this season and exclusively the Watt that has been seen in mind. Regardless of whether this is a decision made primarily by Watt, as it would seem, or by club and Robinson. Despite being an inconsistent nuisance that’s going to cause enough frustration to leave your head rolling down The Valley’s steps, he has more than enough ability, even well below his best, to be a threat in League One.
But that I’m suggesting it would be worth keeping Watt because he might be able to do something from the bench in the third tier of English football is probably a further indicator of the frustration involved in this situation. The greater point is that Watt has failed to deliver on his early promise, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s for the want of trying. The early promise of his career, and in SE7.
Of course, his career will forever be defined by *that* goal against Barcelona as a 19-year-old while playing for Celtic. A goal that has placed immense pressure on him. Maybe he was never actually of the level that goal suggested, or maybe he’s not been able to handle the expectations.
From a Charlton perspective, I still don’t understand how he went from an impressive end to the 2014/15 season and start to the following campaign, to a complete collapse thereafter. A player that could seemingly do everything, to one that appeared lost on the pitch. There didn’t appear a reason for such a loss of confidence, and those levels of performance have not returned.
The, ironically, rather lazy accusation to make is that Watt is lazy. Or at least he has a poor attitude. He’s certainly not your average footballer.
But a poor attitude is not something I pick up when he plays. Poor decision making, yes, but not a poor attitude. I’d also suggest the way his teammates treat him would be very different if laziness and attitude was a greater problem.
I do, given that Watt has displayed flashes of brilliance but not to any consistent level, imagine there is some degree of mental barrier in his way. But I don’t think it’s a self-created one.
To be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure why he’s struggled to deliver like he might have done, but I feel it might well relate to a reliance on confidence. The drop in form at the start of 2015/16, coinciding with poor team displays and the sacking of Luzon, something he struggled to get over, the loan spells not providing the boost required, and a struggle to perform ever since. While others show anger towards the Scot as a consequence, I feel a degree of sympathy.
In fact, as a person, I quite like Watt. Opinions gained from how he interacts with supporters and his social media behaviour only tell so much, but he does seem like a genuinely good guy. I was certainly one of those who chanted his name, wishing him to succeed.
And as such, as he departs, I’m one of those who feels regret and disappointment. We saw quality from Watt in SE7, but were ultimately given more moments of frustration. He leaves making only a minor impression overall, but there a knowledge he could have delivered so much more.