Hearts boss backs ‘slow-burner’ John Souttar for Scotland call

John Souttar is improving all the time, according to Craig Levein
John Souttar is improving all the time, according to Craig Levein
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Hearts manager Craig Levein believes John Souttar is ready to step into the Scotland senior squad under Gordon Strachan’s successor.

The Scottish Football Associaton are seeking a new head coach after parting company with Strachan, and Levein is confident Souttar can be part of a new-look squad.

A regular in the Scotland Under-21 side, Souttar is making steady progress at club level after joining Hearts from Dundee United in January 2016.

He has long been regarded as a future international centre-back and Levein feels now could be the time to promote the 21-year-old.

“I’m hoping Souttar kicks on and helps us in the full national team. I have high hopes for him,” said Levein. “He had a bit of a rocky road to get to where he is just now, a lot of highs and some lows but he is improving all the time. I think he’s a slow-burner.

“He appeared on the scene when he was 16. He was getting criticised when he was 18 years old for playing in the Premier League in Scotland. It was a bit harsh.

“He has grown up, he just turned 21 recently. He is big, strong, quick, great on the ball and his defending is improving week on week. I think he’s got the attributes to be a Scotland centre-back, for sure.”

Levein, the Scotland manager Strachan succeeded in 2013, insisted it is vital to keep faith in the national team’s future due to many promising youngsters being developed nationwide.

People remain sceptical about the SFA’s performance school system but Levein has first-hand knowledge of the kids involved. He is adamant Scotland’s clubs are in the process of producing top international stars.

“You probably don’t see it but there is a huge amount of hope,” he added. “I watch the kids games every Saturday and Sunday morning.

“Going way back when the performance schools started – bearing in mind kids going in there are 12 years old – Harry Cochrane played for us the other week and was the first performance school kid to start a game in the Premiership.

“I’m telling you, these kids are good players. It’s not just us, a lot of teams have lots of good players.

“It’s typical Scotland. We start something and, because we haven’t got the rewards within five years, a lot of people say: ‘The clubs aren’t doing anything.’ I’m telling you, there is a whole load of work going on.

“You look at our recent results, and I’m not just talking about a blip, and gradually our results have been improving throughout the age-groups.

“That’s because we’ve got better players. So I think it’s only going to get better.

“Absolutely, there are players coming through who can play for Scotland. We have four or five players in the 16, 17, 18 age-group here at Hearts. I would be hugely surprised if they don’t play a hundred games for us and become international players.

“Listen, the proof is in the pudding, but the quality is better.”