Injecting himself in the stomach while his calf muscle wasted away in front of his eyes, John Souttar’s recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon has been tortuous. The Hearts defender today revealed the harrowing detail of his rehabilitation.
The worst moments are now over but they will remain in Souttar’s mind for some time. He tore his Achilles against Celtic in January and was immediately ruled out for the rest of the season. Digesting that news was relatively easy compared to what lay ahead.
“Sometimes you go through periods when you’re thinking: ‘This is going nowhere’,” explained Souttar. “You’re looking at your calf, where the muscle had totally wasted away on my left side. You’re looking at it thinking: ‘I am working hard every day but nothing seems to be happening.’ That is obviously tough. After getting over that and getting back running it has been good.
“When I got the injury, I got an operation and then I had to sit with my leg up. I could only move for five minutes every hour. I was putting injections in my stomach every four hours. Week by week, I could see the calf withering away and it was just bone basically at the end, there was no muscle at all. You could stretch the skin right out.
“That was tough. Now the muscle is back and it’s probably stronger than before. I think I always knew it would recover. I was never in doubt about that. I went to a top surgeon in London. It was just the way the leg deteriorated and there was nothing you could do about it.”
Stomach injections to stop blood clots were necessary three to four times a day. “It was tough at the start but it was fine.” Souttar made every sacrifice hoping to come back stronger. He is now ahead of schedule and could be back in a Hearts shirt as early as August.
“When it happened, I thought: ‘It’s done now. I’ve just got to make the most of the time out’,” he said.
“There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself. This was a chance for me to get in the gym and make myself stronger – improve other parts of my game that I would be able to if I was fit. I’m more determined if anything to achieve my goals.
“I’m working hard in the gym, doing extra, going to a Thai therapist to keep me mobile. I do that to keep myself fit and I work with the physio every day. I want to come back stronger. Thai therapy is a form of yoga. Jackie McNamara brought this guy, Ken Anderson, in at Dundee United and I know a lot of the boys in the Premiership go to him. He just keeps you fit and flexible. It’s an injury-prevention thing for your muscles. Stuart Armstrong goes to him. I’ve been doing it since I was 16. I go to his house near Edinburgh.”
One place Souttar has been reluctant to visit whilst injured is Tynecastle. He isn’t a good spectator. “I don’t go to many of the games. I can’t watch them. When you’re injured, it’s tough to go and watch. I try to keep myself out of it because I think it’s just torture if you go and watch games when you’re injured. You can’t do anything about it.”
Hearts’ form in the second half of the season appeared to vindicate his decision. Head coach Ian Cathro was severely hindered with first-choice defenders Callum Paterson and Souttar injured, whilst Igor Rossi was sold.
“We had two games [under Cathro] and then Callum did his cruciate. He was probably our best player,” said Souttar. “I think he would have been up for Player of the Year if he’d carried on because the number of goals he scored from right-back was incredible. There were English Premier League teams chasing him.
“The whole back line went with me, Callum and Igor. That was three of our settled defence. The results weren’t the best but, with pre-season and everyone together, there could be a big difference. It could be completely different conversations we’re having this time next year.”
• John Souttar was speaking at the launch of ‘Football Unites’ to promote a West Highland Way Walk and Ben Nevis Climb from June 21-24 raising money for Teenage Cancer Trust and CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young). It is in memory of Phil O’Donnell, who died of heart failure during a game for Motherwell on December 29, 2007, aged just 35. It’s also for Jordan Moore the former Dundee United player who was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2014 when he was only 19. He has battled it to make a full recovery. O’Donnell’s family and Moore have been brought together to form ‘Football Unites’. O’Donnell’s former team-mates and Moore’s former coaches, Jackie McNamara, Darren Jackson and Simon Donnelly, will be taking part. Visit the Facebook page: fb.me/footballunites2017