Hearts centre-back John Souttar has admitted that team-mate Steven MacLean was the striker he feared coming up against most.
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The stand-in captain of the Gorgie side, as Christophe Berra recovers from injury, talked about the difficulties posed by the veteran striker as he made his mark as a teenager at Dundee United before moving to Hearts.
Souttar has recently been called into the Scotland national team for the upcoming friendly with Belgium and Uefa Nations League match with Albania.
In an interview with BBC Sportsound, the 21-year-old recalled being brought into the Dundee United first-team at 16 and the teething problems coming up against more physically developed strikers.
“When I was younger probably sometimes I wasn’t quite ready to play the amount of games I did,” Souttar, who paid tribute to Berra and Hearts manager Craig Levein, said. “I have got to thank the managers when I was younger for keep playing me. Jackie McNamara kept playing me, kept playing me sometimes when I wasn’t ready. Looking back now, the experience I gained from that was massive.
“There was times in games where, not that I didn’t feel ready, but you were uncomfortable going into a battle with a striker a lot bigger than you and you were 16, 17, 18 and hadn’t developed for a physical tussle but it was a learning curve, learning how you had to use your body and how not to use your body and I think it has benefited me in the long run.
“I think when I was younger and I was getting bullied off strikers it wasn’t an enjoyable thing so you more just wanted to get on the ball but now I’ve physically matured and it’s something I enjoy, I enjoy defending.”
When asked which striker was the biggest bully, Souttar’s answer was a familiar name.
“Steven MacLean! Steven MacLean’s the biggest one. He’s very clever, the way he uses his body with his elbows. He was a tough opponent to play against but thankfully he is on our team now so I know exactly what the young centre halves are doing against him and how clever he can be.”
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