Big brother lends advice as Harry Souttar heads for Stoke

Do as I say, not what I do. This age-old parenting get-out clause has been employed by Hearts defender John Souttar as he offers younger brother Harry the benefit of his '¨wisdom.

Harry Souttar is heading for Stoke City after securing a reported £200,000 move from Dundee United. Picture: SNS
Harry Souttar is heading for Stoke City after securing a reported £200,000 move from Dundee United. Picture: SNS

Still only 19 himself, John is superbly well qualified to give Harry advice. Not only is he the elder by two years, he is also, like his sibling, a central defender.

But there’s another reason John can be so empathetic as Harry prepares to head south, aged only 17, for a new life at Stoke City in a reported £200,000 move from Dundee United.

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John was perched on the horns of a dilemma three years ago when a big-money offer from Sunderland presented him with the chance to join a Premier League club. Most footballers go through their entire careers without being made such an enticing – and lucrative – offer.

Like Harry, he was at Dundee United, who accepted Sunderland’s £600,000 offer. So it fell to John to consider what was best for him. Having done so, he opted to stay. So why has he advised Harry to grab this opportunity?

“The circumstances were different,” he explained. And they were. Harry has made only three first-team appearances to date for United.

When John was a target for Sunderland, he was, if not quite yet established, then verging on a first-team regular. He had already played 14 times for United and was firmly in then manager Jackie McNamara’s plans having made his debut under Peter Houston, the previous manager at Tannadice.

United were also then very much in the top flight. There was less pressure on those like Souttar who were being introduced to the first team. Now, of course, Ray McKinnon’s priority is not nurturing youngsters. Rather, it is getting United back into the Premiership.

He needs hard-nosed, tough-tackling centre-halves already well versed in what is required at this level rather than those still feeling their way in the game. At Stoke, however, Harry can expect to be given every chance to develop. At 6ft 7in, he also has the required physique to cope with the English game, where strength is king.

“I’ve spoken to my brother about it a lot,” said John. “It will be good for him to go down there. It’s good to get away and he is looking forward to it. As his brother I am delighted for him.

“I was playing at 17 most weeks in the SPL. We were near the top of the league. It’s completely different for my brother, who is in the Championship and is not really involved with the team. I was a bit more settled, playing games so it was completely different. This is the right move for him. It’s a good move for him.”

“We are similar players but he is taller,” added Souttar. “Technically he is very good and he has all the attributes to be a top player. He’s my brother and we don’t have a serious relationship. We muck about and joke but any time he needs my advice I am on the other end of the line.”

Now a regular starter at Hearts, and recently named in the Scotland Under-21 squad for the forthcoming double-header against FYR Macedonia and Ukraine, Souttar has no reason to regret his own decision to remain in Scotland.

Things went slightly sour for him at Tannadice, as the side started an epic slide towards the bottom of the league. But he was thrown a lifeline by Hearts on the last day of the transfer window in February, and he took it.

“I’m in a great place now,” he says. “I’m 19 and I’ve played 80 games in the SPL. That experience is second to none and a lot of people don’t have that. I’ve been through situations and bad times and I think it’s made me stronger as a person and a player. It’s not always going to be easy in football. To go through bad times is a good thing.”

“I’m developing all the time,” he added. “The gaffer [Robbie Neilson] has been brilliant with me, it’s a great squad.”

As for those critics of Hearts’ style of play, Souttar, whose preference is to play the ball out from the back, is glad they got one in the eye after Saturday’s 5-1 win over Inverness.

“For people to judge us on those first two games [v Celtic and Aberdeen] and call us industrial is harsh,” he said. “It’s little margins, isn’t it? But at the weekend we got the ball down and showed we can play football.”