Hearts can build their Premiership defence around 'complete centre-back' John Souttar
John Souttar has been labelled “the complete centre-back” as he prepares for a key role with Hearts in next season’s Premiership.
Former Tynecastle coach Jon Daly believes his old club should build their defence around the 24-year-old, who is fit again after more than a year out through injury.
Souttar returned to action earlier this month as Hearts thumped Alloa 6-0 at Tynecastle Park. The club’s promotion to Scotland’s top flight was confirmed the following day when their nearest rivals dropped points.
Having played in the Premiership with both Dundee United and Hearts previously, Souttar’s quality and experience will be a vital component next term and Daly believes he can be a defensive linchpin.
“He is the type of guy you can build a defence around, 100 per cent. There aren’t many centre-backs like John in Scotland,” said the Irishman, who worked with Souttar at Riccarton and is now coaching at the Finnish club TPS Turku.
“He can step in, break lines with his passing and start attacks. He is one of the best in the country at doing that and he will be a big player for Hearts next year. It will be like getting a new signing.
“I think he can help with the type of football the Hearts fans demand. He has some defensive grit which was probably missing in his earlier years. If you take away his injuries for a moment, he is the complete centre-back.
“If he hadn’t had the injuries, I don’t think he would still be at Hearts now. I think he would have moved on to a higher level.”
Souttar suffered two ruptured Achilles during 2020 but is finally fit again just as Hearts begin rebuilding for their Premiership return. They are expected to sign at least one new centre-back this summer with Christophe Berra due to join Raith Rovers.
Daly remembers Souttar’s formative years at Dundee United and pointed out the improvement in his game since he first emerged at Tannadice as a raw 16-year-old.
“When he came through at United, people questioned his desire to defend,” said Daly. “I saw a massive improvement in that area when Christophe Berra came to Hearts. Aaron Hughes was also a good role model for John.
“With his ability on the ball, his range of passing and his pace, I think John has all the attributes to go and play at a higher level than Hearts. Clubs will obviously take into account the injuries he’s had but it’s great to see him back.
“Hopefully that’s the end of his injuries now and he can really kick on. I had some serious injuries myself as a player but you can come back, although it is a long and lonely road. He’s worked hard with the Hearts physios and sports scientists to get himself back in top condition.
“Hopefully he sees out this season and then gets a full season next year in the Premiership. Then he can maybe get himself back in the Scotland set-up.”