One of the most intriguing transfer stories to pop up as we hurtle towards the…
Tony Watt has moved to St Johnstone. You know, the guy that scored for Celtic against Barcelona and who reviews films on YouTube? His channel is called Watt to Watch? That’s the one. Joking aside, the ex-Celtic player has enjoyed a turbulent career up until this point and will be hoping to get back on the right track under Tommy Wright.
When you look at his CV you’d be forgiven for thinking Watt was a journeyman nearing the end of his playing career. He’s played in the Champions League, for various English sides and also abroad in Belgium. Following ‘that goal’ against Barcelona, and his subsequent departure from Celtic, the 24-year-old has enjoyed an unorthodox career path. He was once regarded as a real talent, a striker with pace, who can get in behind defenders and who had a real eye for goal. A wholly underwhelming loan spell at Hearts in 2016/17 severely damaged that image; for those who already didn’t think Watt was on the slide.
That said, he showed during his first loan spell away from Celtic that he had all the tools needed to succeed. He moved to Lierse SK in Belgium and, despite a volatile relationship with manager Stanley Menzo, scored 9 goals and provided three assists in 18 appearances. A final fallout resulted in him finishing the season with the ‘B’ squad before returning to Celtic. However, it was clear Watt impressed during his time in Belgium as he soon sealed a permanent move away from Parkhead to Standard Liege.
Watt’s move to Liege proved to be a bit of a failure. He struggled for game time or to nail down a place in the starting eleven. It wasn’t long then until Charlton Athletic came calling and the Scotsman made the journey back to the British Isles. While he was hardly a club legend, Watt did show glimpses of what he could do at The Valley. A mixture of injuries and personal issues with the club resulted in loan moves to Cardiff City and Blackburn respectively.
He scored twice in nine games during his time in the Welsh capital; a decent return. However financial difficulties meant he ultimately returned to his parent club. Again, his time at Blackburn was cut short due to injury even though a fee had apparently been agreed for him to move there permanently. There was perhaps some bad luck involved during Watt’s time in England. It can be argued there were a couple of sliding door moments where, if things had played out differently, Watt may never have moved to Tynecastle in the first place.
As was mentioned, a poor loan spell at Hearts followed and then a forgettable period back in Belgium with Oud-Heverlee Leuven. Before joining the Perth side Watt had been without a club which of course does ring some alarm bells. Some may say it’s his attitude or perhaps he just wasn’t as good as we once thought he was? To say Watt is damaged goods would be unfair, but is he a good signing for Tommy Wright and St Johnstone? Well, that’s a completely different matter entirely.
Let’s briefly take our focus away from Watt and look at St Johnstone. The Perth club have achieved incredible feats in recent seasons including a domestic cup win, top-six finishes and European qualification. Tommy Wright has done a quite remarkable job and deserves a significant amount of credit. That said, last season was an ugly one for the Saints. Whilst they avoided a relegation battle, that didn’t always look like it was going to be the case.
Despite being one of the most over-performing teams in the country, St Johnstone have one of the smaller budgets in the Premiership. They can’t go out and splash the cash on a new player. For example, Aberdeen recently bid £500,000 for John Marquis of Doncaster Rovers. This is money St Johnstone could only dream about spending. Moreover, it’s not just transfer fees but also the wages the Perth club are able to offer to players who are wanted by numerous clubs. In essence, it’s tough for them to bring in new signings.
This is where Watt comes into play. The striker will cost St Johnstone nothing in transfer fees and also this is a player struggling to find a club, therefore it’s unlikely he’ll be demanding high wages. At this point, the deal is definitely better for Watt than St Johnstone. Although, St Johnstone certainly need firepower up front.
The graph above highlights just how desperately Wright’s side are lacking goals. What’s even more worrying for Saints fans is that their two top scorers last campaign, Steven MacLean and Michael O’Halloran, won’t be at McDiarmid Park next season. That’s very worrying given the current lack of attacking options in Perth. In terms of strikers, they currently have Chris Kane, David McMillan and youngsters Callum Hendry and Greg Hurst. Between them, they scored three Premiership goals last season, albeit that McMillan missed out through injury.
Tommy Wright’s side have also lost the experienced spine of their team. Goalkeeper Alan Mannus and midfielder Chris Millar have both moved on. Perhaps more importantly, striker and cult hero MacLean has moved to Hearts. There’s no doubt all three players leave a significant gap in this side, but it could be MacLean’s absence that will be felt this most.
MacLean was the club’s top scorer last season, but also was also a hugely influential character at the club. Now Watt can’t be expected to fill that void, but he can be expected to do his job, and that’s to score goals.
We decided to look at Tony Watt’s goals and assists for Hearts in 2016/17 but also his performances in the English Championship for Charlton and Blackburn so as to have a bigger sample size. The main takeaway from this graph is that Watt’s scoring stats don’t set the world alight. He only scored once at Hearts and averaged 0.08 goals per 90. His stats during the 2015/16 season are better as he scored five goals and averaged 0.19 per match whilst playing south of the border.
When you look at his goals per 90 at Hearts (0.08) compared to Kane (0.30) and MacLean’s (0.35) for St Johnstone last season in the Premiership, it can be argued that he’s not really up to much. However, when we scratch the surface we realise that it’s not quite as black and white as this.
Looking at the xG 90 (expected goals per 90 minutes) metric it becomes clear that Watt has the potential to score more goals for St Johnstone than he did previously for Hearts. Simply put, his xG/90 is significantly higher than his goals per 90. At Hearts, his expected goals per game was 0.24 which is a significant jump from the 0.08 goals he actually achieved per 90 minutes. Similarly, his xG/90 at Charlton was 0.35 which is again higher than his actual average goals per game (0.19). In essence, there’s a gap between Watt’s xG/90 and goals/90 whereas Kane and MacLean’s are almost the same.
So what does this tell us? The positive is that it means Watt is getting himself into scoring positions which could mean there’s a decent chance his goal tally in Perth could be better than it was during his time in Edinburgh. After all, at least he’s able to get himself into goalscoring situations at Premiership level. However, to do that he’ll have to improve his finishing. Conversely, the negative way to look at this is that he wastes goalscoring opportunities.
Watt also showed at Charlton and Blackburn that he can turn provider the odd time. He provided three assists and averaged 0.12 per 90 minutes. MacLean was able to provide assists on three occasions for St Johnstone last season, but his assists/90 was slightly lower at 0.11. It’s not as important as scoring goals for the Saints, but it’s something other strikers like Chris Kane didn’t manage to do at all last season. If Watt were to try and replace MacLean in any way, he’d have to at least chip in with the odd assist for the team.
Tony Watt isn’t going to directly replace Steven MacLean. He won’t be as influential a player for the Saints. Watt is a bit of a surprise package, a wildcard a signing that could prove a masterstroke from Wright or a complete mistake. He’s shown in flashes throughout this career that he’s got the talent, but you can’t help but think this might be one of the final chances Watt gets to prove himself at this level. If that can’t motivate him to knuckle down and perform then it’s hard to say what will.
At this stage, there’s nothing for St Johnstone to lose. They have Chris Kane and a couple of youngsters at the club. Although let’s not forget David McMillan, who was prolific for Dundalk prior to signing for St Johnstone. He was ruled out due to injury but he also could play a huge part in the Perth side’s attacking fortunes next season.
The 24-year-old is a good signing for St Johnstone in so much as they have scarce attacking options and he adds to them. Moreover, if he takes more chances and finishes off goalscoring opportunities that he’s expected to score then St Johnstone could have unearthed a bargain. It might be a bit of a punt, but perhaps Watt will turn out to be exactly what they need.