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Early rejection has helped to propel Watt to the top of his game

IN these days of pro youth squads and performance academies, it is worth noting that Tony Watt's journey to football stardom arrived via the old school.

Tony Watt has signed a new contract that could keep him at Celtic until the summer of 2016
Tony Watt has signed a new contract that could keep him at Celtic until the summer of 2016

The 18-year-old Celtic striker – who yesterday confirmed his emergence as one of the brightest talents in the Scottish game when he signed a new contract at the Parkhead club which could take him through to the summer of 2016 and is thought to be worth in excess of £5000-a-week – used the occasion to pay tribute to those who have helped bring him to this point, and to point out a few who may feel rather shamed now by their failure to notice his glaring potential.

Celtic haven't looked back since acquiring his raw, attacking abilities after 15 hardly prolific first-team games at Airdrie United. But if Watt's has been a slightly accidental, haphazard development, the fuel behind it all is the rejection of being passed over by the nation's pro youth sides, not least teams like St Mirren and Queen's Park.

Instead, unlike his school pal John Herron – who signed pro youth forms at Celtic early on and is now on the fringes of the first team – Watt was still running around with local boys' club side Dunbeth and amateur outfit Whifflet in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and District Youth League. That was until he answered a newspaper advert penned by Jimmy Boyle at Airdrie United at the age of 15 and made the cut for the first team.

"Obviously my mum Lucy and dad Paul have helped me a lot," Watt said. "The gaffer [Neil Lennon] has been great and my Airdrie manager was a big inspiration to me. My agent and friends have also really helped. But I would probably say Jimmy Boyle and my dad have had the biggest influence. They both backed me and told me I would go places but I never believed in myself. They helped me when I was down and when I couldn't bridge that gap between boys club and pro youth.

"We played Hibs years ago when I was playing for my boys' club and we drew 2-2 and I scored the equalising goal. Then I went on trial at St Mirren for three months but the head of youth at St Mirren said I was too lazy – but that is his problem not mine. I don't know if he is still at the club. I also went on trial with Queen's Park five years ago but nothing came of it and I am glad I did not sign there because I would not be the player I am today if I did. The rejection at the likes of St Mirren and Queen's Park helped me in a way as I know what it is like to feel rejected.

"Only some people see it in you and it's the same now. There are still people who don't think I am a good player and that's just down to choice."

Even then, the path to his boyhood heroes, Celtic, wasn't exactly clear. Suddenly in demand, as he prepared to leave Airdrie, Watt had trials with Liverpool, Fulham and Bolton Wanderers, and had to cancel a planned engagement with Rangers due to some inclement weather. "I would have picked Celtic over any English side anyway," he said. "As a young boy I used to run about the street kicking the ball about pretending to be guys like Henrik Larsson and dreaming that one day I would be here."

Whatever remuneration Watt has agreed to receive in the next four years, and whatever he goes on to receive in the remainder of his career, nothing may ever come close to the payback he felt from his nearest and dearest when he returned to the familial home in the immediate aftermath of his big Barcelona moment. His mum and a friend had been attendance at Parkhead, but for family reasons his father had been unable to attend.

"The thing that has touched me the most was when I walked in from the Barca game my mum and dad gave me a hug and we had a moment in the hall together," Watt said. "It was very emotional and there were tears from my mum as she was just so proud of me and my dad gave me a cuddle but he never shows his emotions. That meant the world to me and it was better than anything else as there is nothing can beat your own family being happy and proud for you."

Glasgow holds many pitfalls for a youngster with money to burn, but Watt still stays in Lanarkshire and feels his family and friends will help keep him grounded. "Some people get lost in the system and it is probably down to them thinking they are better than they are," he said. "That is possibly with their parents filling their heads with stuff but my mum and dad would not do that. I've got enough people that would slaughter me if I ever got too cocky anyway."

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