Tony Watt a Low Risk Gamble for St. Johnstone

  Photograph: Getty/Steve Welsh

 Photograph: Getty/Steve Welsh

Written by: Matt Rhein @TheBackPassRule

At this point, Tony Watt has become more meme than footballer. Mentioning his name on twitter will likely result in more people sarcastically asking if you heard he has scored against Barcelona. Unfortunately for Watt, this singular moment of infamy is down to the fact he has yet to turn that famous goal into sustained success anywhere in football.

On Monday, it was announced that Watt had signed a one year deal with St. Johnstone. The Perth club has become Watt's eighth club he has either signed with or been sent on loan to since leaving Celtic. Along with a passport filled with many stamps, the number of moves Watt has made has led to plenty of speculation about the young Scottish striker's maturity. While it is tough to ignore this speculation, you can surmise there has been some type of issue that has seen Tony Watt unable to find success at a club.

One of his previous stops was of course in the SPFL Premiership with Hearts. Watt had a rough time of it at Tynecastle, scoring only 1 goal and being sent back from his loan early. After heading back to Charlton, Watt discussed his time in Scotland, saying "everything" was better in English football. Perhaps not the best comment to make after only scoring 1 goal in 17 goals and these comments that annoyed your humble author here.

Despite numerous top half and European qualification performances the last few years, St. Johnstone have one of the smaller budgets in the SPFL Premiership. They need to be creative in their recruitment policy and try to find edges where they can. A good example of this is signing a player seemingly with talent but has yet to settle anywhere like Watt on a free. While his goal scoring record was poor at Hearts, perhaps Tony Watt's underlying stats during his time at Tynecastle show that perhaps the Saints can turn him into a useful SPFL Premiership striker.

 Shot map of Tony Watt's attempts in SPFL Play for Hearts.

Shot map of Tony Watt's attempts in SPFL Play for Hearts.

We have already mentioned that Tony Watt only found the net once in a maroon jersey, but we have discussed on this site previously the need to look at other metrics besides goal scoring for a player. In his time at Hearts, Tony Watt had an xG total of 3.22 and xG per 90 of 0.29. He averaged 2.39 shots per 90 minutes and 0.12 xG per attempt. All of these numbers are above the average player and show he is able to get decent chances at a good rate when playing in the SPFL. If he is able to replicate this with St. Johnstone, we would expect him to score a few more goals than he did with Hearts.

While there are some signs that Watt could turn it around at McDiarmid Park, there might also be an old cliche we should consider. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" might have to be altered to "fool me seven times, shame on me". Watt not working out at all of his other clubs is likely no fluke. Furthermore, there are some stats that point to Watt not being successful.

During his time at Hearts, Tony Watt had a comically low conversion rate of 3.7%. Of course, conversion rate will typically stabilize over time and given Watt's xG numbers at Hearts we would expect that to improve over time. However, that is an alarming number to see. Furthermore, he only scored on 10% of his chances he put on target, another alarming number when we consider his possible finishing ability. Now, these numbers come from a very small sample and as we mentioned these numbers see wild swings in variance so they very well could improve during Watt's time at St. Johnstone. However, they are certainly worth noting and keeping an eye on when Tony Watt plays for the Saints.

Tony Watt and what comes with him is known throughout Scottish football. Being without a club when St. Johnstone signed him means the Perth club has minimum cost and risk bringing him in. Could they be added to the list of clubs Watt was a flop with? Certainly, but there are some numbers that suggest the infamous young striker could be a serviceable option at this level.

This could lead to a mutual beneficial relationship for both St. Johnstone and Watt. The Saints are looking to replace club legend Steven MacLean. MacLean has seemed ageless for St. Johnstone, consistently being among the top scorers and contributing near the highest xG in the SPFL the past few years. Last season, MacLean scored 9 non-penalty goals (0.37 per 90) and was 13th in xG total at 6.28 (0.25 per 90) at the age of 35. They will be big shoes to fill, but we see Tony Watt had a similar xG per 90 at Hearts as MacLean did last season. If Watt can create similar chances as he did with Hearts and improve his finishing, St. Johnstone may have found a replacement in MacLean in the most unlikeliest of places.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.