John Souttar’s fierce desire to cement a Scotland place taught him a valuable lesson in Israel last October.
The Hearts defender knew his hip had gone in what was only his third international cap but refused to ask coach Alex McLeish to substitute him. The reward for his diligence was a red card.
He now regrets the decision and admits he should have gone off voluntarily in the disappointing 2-1 Nations League defeat. Instead, he was dismissed on 61 minutes for a second booking after tangling with the Israeli forward Munas Dabbur.
Worse was to follow. The injury – a tear in the hip’s lining – sidelined him for three months, robbing Hearts of a key player and denying Souttar any part in Scotland’s progress to the Euro 2020 play-offs. Nonetheless, his eagerness to impress the Scotland coaching staff and retain his place at the time could only be admired.
As questions persist over some players’ commitment to Scotland, Souttar’s attitude is thoroughly refreshing.
“I did it [the hip] last year against Celtic in the top-six game and it was basically a case of, ‘play until you need the operation’,” explained the 22-year-old, who should be back in maroon before the end of the month.
“It was towards the end of the Israel game. I felt it in the first half and I knew it had gone. I think Charlie [Mulgrew] was coming off in the second half and I was coming off before I got sent off.
“In hindsight I wish I had come off at half-time. It’s something I will learn from and it is probably something I will look back on at the end of my career and say I should have gone off. I will know what to do if it happens again.”
Having waited so long for a senior call-up, Souttar simply felt he wasn’t established enough to be asking to come off during a vital tie in Haifa.
“It was only my third cap for my country and I thought: “I can’t come off here, I need to play’. Charlie has had so many caps and he has been there, seen it and done it, so I was of the opinion that I couldn’t come off. I was just in the international door so I wasn’t wanting to go off injured at half-time.
“In hindsight I should have gone off. I might have gotten away with one because a lot of people have forgotten that I was sent off against Israel.
“That is why I was buzzing when Scotland reached the play-offs. Now that we have qualified it is a great learning curve for me on how to handle my body and stuff. It is good in that sense.
“The last time I was injured it was a completely different kind of injury but I knew this had to get fixed. This was a straightforward one and the last time was a more serious injury.”
Souttar’s previous injury, a torn Achilles tendon, sidelined him for six months in 2017. This has been a quicker recovery and everything has gone to plan with his rehabilitation. He hasn’t been short of support. “As soon as I got injured Alex McLeish, Peter Grant and James McFadden all phoned me,” he revealed.
“They were all really positive, which helped me a lot. I went out to Portugal to see Gauldy [Ryan Gauld] and the gaffer phoned me when I was there, which was good. That meant a lot, knowing they were there for me and that it meant a lot to them me playing through injury. It was good to hear.”
Seeing Scotland reach the play-offs certainly cheered him up, as did Hearts’ recent victory at Easter Road after a difficult run of form. “I was buzzing watching the Scotland game because you’re a fan,” said Souttar. “Everyone was buzzing. There is always a lot of doom and gloom around the country. When something good happens, you need to enjoy it.
“Then there was the Hearts thing but we’ve now won the derby and that’s massive. It’s a big gap [during the winter break]. If you don’t end well, it’s a long wait till January. That was huge and gives the whole club a big lift going into the second half of the season.”
Hearts fly to Spain today for a five-day winter training camp but Souttar will stay in Edinburgh to continue his recovery.
“I’m doing a lot of my work with Mikey Williams and Craig Maitland, the physios here, so it makes sense for me to carry on with that rehab.
“I’ve been through it before. It was tough at the time when you’re involved with Scotland. Everything was going well and then you get hit with an injury like this. It was only three months so it’s not the end of the world. It needed fixed and it’s been fixed. I’m sure I’ll come back better than I was.”
Christophe Berra and Steven Naismith just returned from injury and Uche Ikpeazu isn’t far away. Add in new arrivals David Vanecek and Conor Shaughnessy and there is plenty cause for optimism.
“Once we get everyone fit and the two new boys in, it’s going to be a good second half of the season.”