AHEAD of his Hearts debut tonight, John Souttar revealed how Hearts’ vision and development plan convinced him to move to Tynecastle. The 19-year-old is expected to play against Ross County in Dingwall and is excited at the pathway laid out for him by the Hearts management team.
Souttar left Dundee United in a £150,000 deal on transfer deadline day after deciding that Hearts’ training and development programme would improve him. He is keen to reach his potential as an established centre-back and believes he can fulfil that ambition in Edinburgh.
“They had a vision for me – where they wanted me to play, how they wanted to develop me, stuff like that,” said the Scotland Under-21 player. “The training sessions are very demanding and the intensity is so high but it’s worth it. Look at the improvement in the boys here like Callum Paterson, Sam Nicholson and Jordan McGhee. These people are young and they’ve improved in the last two years.
“Callum is probably the best right-back in Scotland just now. Players can improve here and there’s definitely a pathway. I spoke to a few of the boys before I came here and they told me the sort of stuff they do, like triple sessions. The other day I did about four sessions here but in the long run it’s only going to benefit me.”
Souttar admitted training at Riccarton is vastly different to United, where he couldn’t command a regular place in central defence after Mixu Paatelainen replaced Jackie McNamara as manager. “Yeah, it is. I think it’s going to take a bit of time to adapt. The training intensity is very high and there are a lot of things behind the scenes that they do to help you improve. I think a lot of stuff came out at United which didn’t help anything. I don’t really want to talk about that. I’m delighted to be here and I think the challenge ahead of me is exciting.
“There was word of a few things but Hearts was the main one. The fact they believed in me and the manager saw a pathway for me was massive. I see myself as a centre-half and so do Hearts in the long term. There are a lot of good centre-halves here. Igor, Augustyn, Alim – you can only learn from boys like that. They’ve played in Serie and La Liga, places like that.”
Last Monday’s deadline day proved to be frantic but Souttar was certain he needed to leave Tannadice. “It was crazy. I came in for training at United and Mixu pulled me in. He said: ‘There have been a few bids from Hearts but it’s not happening, the chairman doesn’t want to let you go. Just concentrate on the game at the weekend. You’ll be playing.’
“I went to watch a film with my pal and my girlfriend. My phone goes in the cinema and it’s basically: ‘Get to Edinburgh – but the bridge is closed’. It was Dirty Grandpa we were watching. It was horrendous. We got to the bridge and it was open. If it was closed I’d probably have struggled to get there on time. We got there quite late and Hearts were doing a few deals that day and were trying to get them through. Thankfully mine got done at two minutes to 12 so it was pretty hectic.
“I had my heart set on going to Hearts so I would’ve been gutted if it hadn’t gone through. I felt it was definitely the right time to leave for a fresh challenge. I’d been there since I was eight so I owe a lot to Dundee United. I don’t like seeing the club where it is just now but I think it was the right time to leave and get a fresh start.”