John Souttar speaks on his Hearts future and contract talks with Tynecastle officials

There is an obvious reluctance from John Souttar to peer into the future, which is perfectly understandable.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 7:00 am
John Souttar has begun initial contract talks with Hearts.

After a procession of injuries have robbed you of two and a half years of your career at the age of 24, you naturally refrain from looking too far ahead. The Hearts defender can’t afford another curse so is wisely focused on the here and now.

He does, however, answer candidly when questioned by the Evening News on how long he might hang around Gorgie. His contract expires at the end of the season and initial discussions about an extension have taken place.

Souttar is getting near his imperious best once again after recovering from two successive Achilles tendon ruptures. It was his third such injury since 2017, with ankle and hip issues merely compounding the misery in between.

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Now he looks and feels fitter and stronger. Hearts want to protect probably their biggest asset by agreeing a longer deal and Souttar admits he thoroughly enjoys playing football at Tynecastle Park.

Lots more talking to be done

There is still plenty talking to come with manager Robbie Neilson before his signature might be inked on another Hearts-headed document.

“It's very initial. We've had a few chats just the two of us, just quite chilled chats,” explained Souttar. “I really enjoy playing my football here at Hearts and the gaffer has been great with me. It's really early stages. These things can take a while.”

He is clear about wishing to repay Hearts for their unfaltering support and commitment throughout the injury torment. They have picked up every one of Souttar’s medical bills hoping to restore him to the kind of condition and form he is now displaying.

Ideally, he would sign a new contract to ensure that the Edinburgh club are suitably rewarded with a transfer fee when he does decide to move on. “That is the ideal world but unfortunately sometimes that isn't always the case,” said Souttar.

“Me and the gaffer have just had a few informal discussions so far. Because I've been so focused and he's been so focused on just getting me playing regular football, I don't want to cloud my mind with all that kind of chat.

“I just want to focus on every day, coming in and doing what I need to do for my body. I will let everything else take care of itself.

“The whole club have been brilliant, never rushed me at any point last year which I think has been a bit of the issue in previous years. I've got patched up and rushed back and I've broken down again.

“This year it's been different. I've been given the full chance to recover and get my body into the place it needs to be to play every week. I've got to thank the gaffer and everyone at Hearts for that.

“I feel brilliant. I've played 11 games straight now, more including pre-season. I feel great so I just want to stay injury-free and keep playing and enjoying my football.”

No-one can blame him for prioritising the baby steps. Playing consistently every week for Hearts is the only thing on his agenda and, despite recent hype, he did not expect to be included in the Scotland squad yesterday.

“I honestly haven't thought much about anything like that. I've just been concentrating on day-to-day, training session, staying fit and getting stronger. I feel I'm performing at a consistent level. I'm getting older, I know the game a bit more and that consistency just comes with age.”

Primary-school debut at United

It is impossible not to query someone saying they are getting older when still just 24. Although, in Souttar’s case, he does seem to have been around forever.

“I started playing about ten years ago. I was straight out of primary school into the first team at Dundee United,” he laughed. "I'm developing more, knowing where to put your body and stuff like that.

“When you are a young centre-back, it's easy to get dragged into the wrong area by an experienced striker. Now I feel I'm in a good place and enjoying playing every week.”

There is some lingering disappointment from Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Aberdeen, mainly because victory would have taken Hearts top of the Premiership with a two-point cushion after the opening three fixtures.Upon reflection, Souttar can see the bigger picture of a newly-promoted club making a positive start back in the top division. He enjoys the new 3-4-3 formation and the licence it gives him to move forward and distribute the ball from defence.

“It gives me that chance to step in and play the passes I enjoy. That's part of my game and defensively you need to defend as a three at times and put your head in. I think everyone is enjoying it. We've all bought into the formation.”

The next assignment is a familiar one for Souttar – United at Tannadice this Saturday. “It is a good time to be going back. They won again at St Johnstone on Sunday which was a great result, so they've had a great start to the season as well.

“It is always tough going there but it's a good chance for us to go for the win. Finishing the first part of the season on ten points before the international break would be brilliant.

“That's the ideal start before you have that week off. That week is so much more enjoyable if you've won or you are in a good place in the table. It's really important for the mind and everyone at the club. If we go into the international break on ten points, it will be a great start to the season.”

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