Why Hearts should not sell John Souttar to Rangers in the January transfer window

It’s almost certain John Souttar will not be a Hearts player next season.

By Craig Fowler
Thursday, 6th January 2022, 1:36 pm
Hearts centre-back John Souttar, who is out of contract this summer, is being targeted by Rangers. Picture: SNS

The club have been trying since August to get the Scottish international centre-back to sign a new deal but have been unsuccessful in these attempts. We’re now into the January window, which means other teams can submit pre-contract offers to the player. Most of which, if not all, will blow whatever Hearts can afford out of the water.

The latest side to make their interest known, and if reports are to believed have actually submitted an offer, are cinch Premiership leaders Rangers. It makes perfect sense for the Ibrox outfit. They have endured their own contract impasse with vice-captain Connor Goldson, who himself looks increasingly like he will be departing in the summer. Right-sided, strong, assured and technically proficient are four attributes both players have in common, so it wouldn’t upset continuity in Govan if Souttar swaps Edinburgh for Glasgow.

If Souttar agrees to that pre-contract deal, we will reach the awkward situation where a player is committed to another team and would have to play against them – at least once, probably twice – before the end of the campaign. Regardless, Hearts should not sell to Rangers in the January window, or any other club for that matter. Not unless they make an offer which is too good to turn down.

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Rangers won’t do this. Not only are their financial problems well documented, there’s a well-established pattern with the Old Firm lowballing (if you’re being kind) or bullying (if you’re being accurate) other teams in Scotland when it comes to selling their best assets. Even though they could do with another centre-back in January due to Filip Helander’s season-ending knee injury, the most they’ll likely offer will be around the £500,000 mark with a sell-on fee.

If that clause is something like 25-30 per cent, then maybe Hearts should do the deal. Nathan Patterson has just been sold for around £16 million to Everton and it’s not ridiculous to think Souttar could be worth eight figures himself in a couple of years. He’s five years older but still only 25 and, so long as his body doesn’t break down again, his style of play should allow him to perform at the highest level into his 30s. When it comes time for Rangers to sell, Hearts could earn themselves a hefty lump sum.

If it’s just something like a 10 per cent sell-on, though? Hearts should say thanks, but no thanks.

It could actually be worth more to Hearts in the long run if they simply allow Souttar to play out the rest of his contract and leave for nothing. If the Scottish Cup is won by either Celtic or Rangers, and contextually there’s about an 80 per cent chance it will be, then third place should guarantee group-stage football in Europe next season, provided the Champions League is won by a team who qualify for next season’s tournament through their league.

Such an adventure would be worth about £3-4 million alone to a club like Hearts when you factor in prize money and gate receipts. And that’s not even taking into consideration the club’s profile rising or the prospect of convincing other potential sellable assets to sign new deals to ensure they aren’t caught in a similar situation next January.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of goodwill towards the club from the Hearts support at the moment. It’s been the opposite for the best part of five years prior to this season. Supporters were disenfranchised with the direction of the club and made feelings of anger abundantly clear on several occasions. The Foundation of Hearts came out just this week and stated the goal was to reach 10,000 monthly donations. The only way this will happen any time soon is if the team continues to trend in the right direction.

It Souttar is sold in January for buttons and Hearts miss out on third place, especially if its rivals Hibs who catch them with the amount of investment currently going into the first-team at Easter Road, then a lot of that positivity will instantly evaporate, especially if it occurs while having to witness Souttar donning the light blue of Rangers and participating in two matches which contribute to a downfall.

There’s also the gamble of the sell-on fee itself. It sounds good in practice, but what if Souttar gets another serious injury again? Or decides he likes it at Ibrox and doesn’t ever leave? Or leaves when he’s well into his 30s and is worth about 50p? Or does leave but does so on another freedom-of-contract move? It’s far from a guarantee that a sell-on fee equals future income.

Yes, yes, Hearts could bring in a replacement. But Souttar has been one of the best centre-backs in the cinch Premiership this campaign, a group which includes far more expensive defenders at Celtic and Rangers. What are the chances of replacing quality with quality, especially in the January window when it’s tougher to find? They don’t want to be left with another ‘Jimmy-Dunne-becomes-Conor-Shaughnessy’ situation. The current back-up in the squad, Taylor Moore, is a very handy player to have, but even he represents a significant drop off from Souttar. He’s just that good.

Ultimately, the decision will probably be made by Robbie Neilson. With finances appearing healthy in Gorgie there is no immediate need to sell, so the board will likely take the head coach’s lead on this. If he believes the team can get over the line without Souttar and he doesn’t want to trust a player who has committed his future elsewhere, then Souttar probably goes. But this is definitely a decision which shouldn’t be made out of fear or embarrassment around losing a player for nothing.

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