Hearts defender John Souttar reveals his lockdown disaster as he details full injury fightback
It is more than a year since he last played for Hearts due to two ruptured Achilles. In that time, he has become a father and embraced that responsibility whilst trying to rebuild his football career.
Mental strength isn’t something he lacks, which is just as well given the challenges of the last 13 months. The 24-year-old will be back on the pitch again soon having joined the Hearts substitutes at Brora Rangers on Tuesday evening.
A snapped Achilles against Rangers in February last year was the second such injury suffered by Souttar. It happened for the third time in three years in August as lack of proper rehabilitation facilities during lockdown took its tool on his body.
The player admits trying to come back too quickly but this time he feels physically ready.
Detailing a long journey
“The surgeon and medical staff didn’t put a date on it. They said, ‘take your time and don’t rush anything' because I think previously I personally rushed to get back to the team, which was probably detrimental to me.
“I put the club and the team first at times when I needed to come back quicker and rushed myself back. This time, after the year I had, it was important to take as much time as possible.
“The medical staff and the gaffer were fully behind me in making sure I took my time this time and making sure I was 100 per cent fit. Other times I would be coming back 50, 60 per cent fit trying to help the team and that obviously caught up with me.
“I don’t regret it. It was something I had to do but this time it was important I took time to get 100 per cent and I’m in no pain now. For the first time in a year and a half, probably since that game at Aberdeen [in August 2019] when I came off, I’m training without any pain so I’m feeling brilliant.
“That is down to the medical staff first and foremost, who have been absolutely incredible with me, and the whole club, the gaffer. They’ve allowed me to take my time.”
There were genuine fears for the player’s career when news emerged of that third rupture. “After the first one against Rangers, we went straight into lockdown and that absolutely killed me,” explained Souttar.
“I was on my own for months in my house doing rehab, which was disastrous. It’s a guessing game, you don’t have any professionals around you and can’t have any massages, nothing.
“As much as I tried myself at home, if you don’t get professional treatment then it’s difficult. When I went and did straight leg running and had a wee rupture again, it was probably the best thing that happened to me because my Achilles had obviously not recovered right.
“At the time it was horrible, don’t get me wrong, all sorts of things are going through your mind when it happens again as naturally it would. But now I feel brilliant. My Achilles, my whole body is probably the best it has felt in a long time. Hopefully it worked out to be a good thing.
“As much as the physios tried to help me in lockdown, there’s only so much you can do on Zoom. It wasn’t hands-on, I couldn’t go down to see the surgeon again and the first few months after the operation left me in the house on my own.
“The inflammation never had a chance to go away. It’s down now and I’m feeling brilliant.”
A new arrival
When partner Kayleigh gave birth to daughter Myla in January, a new focus appeared in Souttar’s life. He is still counting his blessings. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me to be honest,” he smiled.
“The whole time she was pregnant it was a total distraction and it also gives you another lease of life when you become a father. It drives you more because you have someone to look after.
“It was an amazing distraction and probably didn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself. I wouldn’t have done anyway.
“When I was going home and she was eight or nine months pregnant, I wasn’t going to moan about it when she was carrying the baby in her stomach. I wouldn’t have got much sympathy from her anyway.”
Hailing the boss
Souttar is also effusive in his praise of the Hearts manager, Robbie Neilson. “The gaffer had just come in when I re-ruptured it and he was incredible with me.
“He said: ‘Don’t rush, take your time, make sure you’re 100 per cent fit.’ Before, I had rushed back, it wasn’t the club or the medical staff who had done that, I did it.
“I’d wanted to come back and help the team when i was nowhere near fit, when I was still in pain. This time the gaffer told me to put myself first and take my time.
“He wasn’t desperate to get me back because he knew I’d be back when we went back up. So that was always the aim for me. Every process before I’d pushed and pushed.
“This time I relaxed and let my body heal naturally. I worked as hard as I could to get stronger and quicker. Thankfully that’s what I’ve done and I feel the best I have felt in my career physically.”
Neilson’s week has been testing after Tuesday’s Scottish Cup exit. “For me the gaffer has been brilliant from the moment I came in at 19. He has developed me brilliantly,” insisted Souttar.
“Every team is going to go through a tough spell but he has been unbelievable throughout my injury. Once we go up our aim is to finish as high as we can next season, that’s what we have to push for.”