John Souttar reflects on his Hearts return and reveals summer plans
Standing talking to young John Souttar, it’s hard to not to be in awe of the Hearts defender.
This is a man who has been put through the mill so many times. Three Achilles ruptures, a serious hip injury and countless other ailments. Yet the 24-year-old keeps bouncing back, showing fortitude that many don’t possess to get back on the pitch.
On Friday night, the Scotland internationalist played his first match for 405 days in the 6-0 win over Alloa. Hour upon hour of gruelling rehab and strength and conditioning work would have felt worth it as he strolled through the game at centre-half. His manager Robbie Neilson embraced him when he subbed him on 85 minutes. It was a huge moment for the ex-Dundee United stopper.
Less than 24 hours later, Souttar and Hearts had even more reason to celebrate. They were crowned Championship title winners on Saturday evening without even kicking a ball after nearest challengers Raith Rovers and Dundee dropped points in their matches. Mission accomplished for Hearts with three games to spare. Not that Souttar really wants the campaign to end.
"I just want to play games,” said Souttar. “There's only three left now, but I've just got to be grateful for coming back, because it's been serious injuries and to get the best career, I've just got to be grateful to be back playing football and enjoying myself.
"I'm absolutely delighted. For me personally to get back playing on the grass ... it's been a long time, a year, 14 months, so it was an amazing feeling to get back playing.”
The match against Alloa had always been earmarked as a potential return for Souttar. "I didn't think I'd be starting,” the likeable defender said. “I think it was pencilled in to give me ten, 20 minutes due to the injury, but I felt brilliant, I felt strong. I've worked hard to get to this stage and thankfully it allowed me to play 85 minutes after being out for so long.
"It's been a difficult few weeks, but I just concentrated on myself. I knew I was coming back soon, that I was close, and I was just trying every day to work hard and help the team out and finish the job. Thankfully that's what I've been able to do.
"The fact that I was able to play 85 minutes having been out for 14 months, it's a credit to the whole medical staff. They didn't rush me back and made sure I was right and able to play this game. It feels so good after it."
Souttar will almost certainly get game-time against Morton, Inverness and Raith before a long break during the summer. He admitted that he will have to rest up, given the work he’s put in to get back to first-team fitness.
"I'll need to take a rest,” Souttar added. “It's not like I've been sitting about. I've been grafting every day, whether it's been out on the pitch or on the bike, so I will take a wee break. It's important for me to keep on top of everything I've been doing and hit next season flying, because it will be a big one, back in the top league where we belong.”