John Souttar to stay involved with Hearts despite Rangers deal as Robbie Neilson insists no-one is bigger than club

Robbie Neilson wants Hearts supporters to back their team unreservedly following John Souttar's decision to sign a pre-contract with Rangers.

Monday, 17th January 2022, 10:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 12:05 pm

While disappointed at losing Souttar, the manager stated that the defender will remain an important figure at Tynecastle Park. Cinch Premiership fixtures resume this week as Hearts host St Johnstone and Souttar is expected to make his first appearance since signing a four-year Rangers contract.

Some Hearts supporters are angry that he has already agreed to leave this summer. That move could be brought forward if the clubs agree a fee before the transfer window closes at the end of January.

Neilson insisted Hearts will always be bigger than any individual player or coach. Souttar will continue to be involved until the day he departs and the manager is hopeful fans get behind the side in the quest for European qualification, rather than vent fury in the player’s direction.

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Robbie Neilson intends to keep using John Souttar at Hearts.

“John will be part of the squad going forward. Nothing has changed in that. It's important we focus on the club and driving forward. No player will ever be bigger than the club. People will come and go, it's about the team performing and picking up three points to progress,” said Neilson.

“John has signed a pre-contract elsewhere but at this moment he is a Hearts player. We have to utilise him as much as we can. I can understand the disappointment. We have a disappointment in here as well. As a fanbase and a club, we have to make sure we look at the bigger picture.

“That is to support the team to push forward and try to get European football. I understand the frustration but the most important thing for us is three points on Tuesday night. We want to drive the club forward, continue the good form we've had, the feelgood factor that has made Tynecastle a fortress, and hopefully the fans will understand that.”

Souttar rejected Hearts’ offer of a new contract and also held discussions with English Championship clubs Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United.

John Souttar is pictured during a Hearts training session at the Oriam today, ahead of Tuesday's match against St Johnstone at Tynecastle

“We knew he had knocked us back and was going to speak to clubs. He has kept us in the loop all the way through,” explained Neilson.

“There is a disappointment he didn't decide to stay with us but it's part and parcel of football. I've had loads of chats with John, so I knew what was happening. Then we got contacted to say it was happening and we have to deal with it.

“The football club is bigger than any player. Managers come and go, coaches come and go, players come and go. The focus for us is: Can we maintain our form, can we get European football and then take the club forward.

“Hopefully John will play a part in that. How big a part is dependent on what happens this month. He is still one of our main players.”

Souttar’s decision to choose Rangers was influenced by the fact a family member is suffering from illness and the player wanted to remain in Scotland.

“I knew John's situation and it's a difficult time for the family, but it's a personal thing and I don't think it's right for me to comment,” said Neilson.

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Rangers are expected to test Hearts’ resolve with a formal transfer bid for Souttar before the month is out, although Hearts have already stated they will only sell for a significant fee.

“John signed a pre-contract but there has been no offer for him, so there isn't a decision to be made at this moment,” explained Neilson.

“If and when an offer comes in, then there's a decision to make. At this point, John has signed a pre-contract and will stay here till the summer. He will be utilised as best we can to make sure we perform as best we can and get into Europe.”

Hearts captain Craig Gordon admitted he is losing his biggest dressing-room ally in Souttar. The pair are both leading figures within the Riccarton squad and often convene on team-related matters.

The goalkeeper offered reassurance that Souttar will still give everything for the Edinburgh club, which helped him rebuild his career after three ruptured Achilles.

“I think it is a four-year contract he’s signed, which is big for him,” said Gordon. “I’m sure Rangers will pay him a lot more than Hearts could do and that is just the reality of the situation.

“Hearts are trying to get to the next level and maybe one day it might be different and we can do that to other teams and take their players.

“This will sting a bit for the fans as he is still staying in Scotland but these things in football can happen. Players more than fans realise this stuff goes on all the time. We know that we can rely on him and he will do his job when asked.

“He will continue to give everything that he’s got. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever. You don’t come back from those type of injuries if you’ve not got a really strong mentality. I’ve got no problem with him from that side of things whatsoever.

“I can understand the fans will be disappointed. I’m disappointed that he won’t be playing in front of me every week but I do recognise how hard he has worked to get back into this position.

“I’ve seen what he has done for Hearts, how good he has been in the dressing room and how good he has been with the other players.

“I accept that is what has happened. I’m a little bit disappointed but only on a football level that he won’t be playing in my team.

“This team will continue to improve and that’s just the way it is. I’m sure the rest of the team will get round him if there is any negativity and make sure we win the game. It’s not about one player. It’s about winning this match.”

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