Stephen Thomspon believes new head coach Mixu Paatelainen can convince John Souttar to change his mind and sign a new contract with Dundee United.
One of Paatelainen’s first tasks since being appointed two days ago is to try to prevent the latest in a long line of Tannadice youngsters leaving the club.
Now we have a new head coach his (Souttar’s) attitude may change”STEPHEN THOMPSON
Souttar, 19, has been offered the chance to become the equal highest earner at United but has so far refused to extend a contract due to expire at the end of this season. In view of the recent player departures from Tannadice, it would be particularly painful if Souttar leaves the club so early in his development. Celtic, who have signed Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and Nadir Ciftci from United within the last year, are reported to be interested, and could sign a pre-contract with the player as early as January.
“He was offered a contract to make him the equally highest-paid player at the club at the age of 19,” confirmed Thompson yesterday. “I think if you look at that there is not much more the club can do. But things may change, I don’t know.
“Now we have a new head coach his attitude might change. He is only 19 years old. It feels like he has been around a lot longer than that. I don’t read half the stuff speculated just now. It’s just the nature of the game.”
Souttar has recently made a successful switch from centre-half to midfield and Jackie McNamara, Paatelainen’s predecessor, encouraged the player to remain at a club where he can continue to improve by playing regular first-team football. Souttar has already turned down one chance to leave United to sign for Sunderland, who bid £600,000 for the player two years ago.
Thompson insists there is no pressure on United to sell Souttar before his contract runs out following a spate of recent transfers, with around £3.5 million received from Celtic alone in the last 12 months.
But he admits United will have to continue to be a selling club, just as they were even in their 1980s heyday.
“We are in a very different position now,” he said with regard to pressure being exerted on the club by the bank. “The debt has gone down from a huge peak.
“We have some debt but it is manageable. We are about building the team again. We have traded our way through getting rid of the debt. Other clubs have gone down different routes. That’s the nature of football. But we have traded our way out of it. A lot has happened in a short period of time.
“But yes, we will hopefully sell players for years to come – that is the way the club was modelled under Jim McLean. The club always had to sell players every two or three years to match the ambitions we all have for the club.”
Although Souttar is the player they would least prefer to go, part of Paatelainen’s remit is to make the squad leaner. “We have 51 players,” said Thompson. “There are a lot of players in the squad. It is too big.”
But the head coach’s more immediate concern is to inspire an upswing in fortunes on the pitch, beginning against Hearts on Sunday.
“It goes without saying – get us off the bottom of the league, obviously,” said Thompson, when asked to outline Paatelainen’s objectives. “And climb the league as high as possible. He has inherited a squad which he has until January. We are limited to what we can do in January for obvious reasons – people are under contract.
“But obviously we will have to bring one or two people in. We do not set targets. We are still in both cups. Obviously most teams are in the Scottish Cup but there are two cups to play for – and moving up the league is a priority in this moment in time.”