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Who will pen redemption song for Tony Watt?

TWO grins, separated by just more than a year but by a chasm in experience and a dizzying turbulence in a young career.

Tony Watt was sent off just a minute after coming on against Charleroi. Picture: Belga/PA
Tony Watt was sent off just a minute after coming on against Charleroi. Picture: Belga/PA

When Tony Watt turned away after scoring the winner in Celtic's 2-1 victory over Barcelona in November last year, he was not facing the massed congratulations of his team-mates but was peering at a future that seemed blindingly bright.

His two goals this week for Lierse in the Belgian derby match against Mechelen are a reminder that his talent still burns brightly even as his prospects have dimmed.

The year between these matches has been difficult for Watt and troubling for those who viewed him as not only a future regular with Celtic, but as an international striker for Scotland.

The goal against Barca was the most eloquent of testimony to his attributes. He used his pace to latch on to a mistake and then finished coolly, almost routinely.

Watt proved he was quick, strong and not burdened with any lack of confidence. It was the last that seems to have proved his undoing, at least in the short term, at Celtic.

His attitude was questioned at training and, instead of pushing on for a regular first-team place, he was sent to Lierse on loan by Neil Lennon, the manager.

Lennon has been a strong supporter of the youngster bought from Airdrie United in 2011. He rewarded Watt with an improved contract until 2016 just one week after the Coatbridge youngster had scored that goal against Barca.

But the manager was frank about the reasons why Watt was scoring against Mechelen this week instead of playing against St Johnstone.

"There's an immaturity about Tony and the reason for putting him on loan was to see life at a different place," he said. "We wanted him to sample a different culture and a different type of football. "

He was also unyielding about Watt's problems at Lierse that have included regular rows with the manager, Stanley Menzo.

"If it's not going well, then he needs to knuckle down and make it work. The onus is on him," he said. "He can be a difficult boy at times but there's no malice in him or anything like that."

Lennon, then, is extremely reluctant to bring Watt back and the player is desperate to leave Belgium. His problems at Lierse were merely an extension of those at Lennoxtown. However, they were played out to a louder, more insistent soundtrack.

While Lennon and his staff kept silent publicly about Watt's attitude, Menzo and his staff were not so reticent. He was greeted on arrival in Belgium with Menzo's comment that the player was obviously unfit.

"I see him as the type who thinks by doing a little bit he can get a lot. I think that is wrong," said Menzo, a former goalkeeper at Ajax who is renowned for speaking his mind to both players and the authorities. Watt has also attracted a spectacularly quick red card by being sent off just under a minute after being brought on against Charleroi and has been sent home early from training on at least two occasions. One of these premature exits followed a discussion with Menzo over the possibility of Watt playing on the wing.

Of course, the striker has also showed his ability. He scored after 90 seconds of his debut with Menzo's "unfit" words echoing in his ears and his two goals this week followed yet another condemnation from the Lierse manager.

His talks with Lennon may result in the youngster not hearing precisely what he wants to take on board. "I keep getting painted in a bad light, but I am a long way from home and it hasn't been easy for me," said Watt of his clashes with Menzo.

Lennon, though, may point out that this is precisely why the player has been sent abroad. Frankly, Watt needs to grow up and match his physical maturity with that sort of psychological strength that is necessary in the top-class player. The events of the Mechelen match could serve as a snapshot of both his problems and his ability.

He admitted he had fallen out with the manager. "I had a conversation with the coach and so I was surprised when I was back in the team. But these things happen in football. I'm not here to make friends, but to work," he said.

This will not be viewed as conciliatory but his next sentiment is inarguable. "My job is to score goals and I have done that," he said.

However, talent, even when it is expressed in the currency of goals, is never enough.

Menzo's frustration with the player is accentuated by the knowledge that he has a promising player at his disposal. His initial outburst over Watt's fitness was immediately followed by Menzo stating: " I told him by doing more he can be a much better player." The Dutch manager, too, was ruefully philosophical after he restored the prodigal son to his team this week.

"Tony Watt can make all the difference," he said. "Today I am glad we have him, but tomorrow I might want to murder him. That's just how it is with him."

Lennon, too, retains hope for the redemption of Watt. "There's no question that Tony has ability. He's raw and just needs to polish it off a bit - and polish himself off as a fully rounded figure," he said. "He's not a man yet. Some players take a bit longer to mature than others. Not physically, but in a mental aspect."

Watt, with nine Scotland Under-21 caps in his bag and that Barca goal in his memory, celebrates his 20th birthday tomorrow. He must make the next year more productive than the last. His fate is in his hands and, crucially, in his head.

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