Celtic target Souttar ‘will stay at Dundee United’
The in-demand player is free to strike a pre-contract agreement with another club after declining to sign a new extension to his deal at Tannadice earlier this season.
The offer, which would have made 19 year-old Souttar one of the best-paid players at the club, has since been withdrawn. But Paatelainen described the impasse as a “positive problem” since he has been assured by Souttar himself that he wants to continue his career at Tannadice.
Dundee United must offer the teenager a new contract at least 60 days before the end of his current deal or risk missing out on a development fee for him in the summer. But Paatelainen revealed Souttar, who has dropped to the substitutes’ bench in recent games, has told him that he wants to stay and “fight for the cause”.
“We have a positive problem because the player wants to stay and the club wants him to stay,” said the Dundee United manager. “Hence the contract negotiations started a long time ago. The contract offer was on the table for months. As everyone realises in those situations, eventually it will be taken off.
“Now both parties are agreed that John should stay at Dundee United. And the player wants to stay to fight for the cause. Talks will carry on. We will come to a solution, no question.
“Much too much has been spoken about this,” he added. “These things happen all the time. John is not the only player in this situation, it happens at every club. The media wants to highlight this but there is no problem, no problem at all.”
Celtic are credited with long-running interest in the versatile Souttar, who can play in defence or midfield. After the sale of Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci to the Parkhead club in the last 12 months, the prospect of losing another young talent, particularly to Celtic, is an unpalatable thought for many Dundee United supporters. But Paatelainen, while conceding every player has a price, is confident this will not happen. “John will sign for Dundee United, I am positive, because I want him to stay,” he said. “Unless a big club comes in and offers plenty of money. But we do not want that. We want John to stay here. He is an important figure in our squad.
“He plays every time we play. He is a starting player for us. He is a young player and still needs plenty development. But it is a positive problem for us because he has told me he wants to stay.”
Meanwhile, Paatelainen has admitted the ball is in Hibs’ court regarding the future of Henri Anier, who is currently on loan at Easter Road from Tannadice. Jackie McNamara, Paatelainen’s predecessor, allowed Anier to leave in September. There was no recall clause inserted in the agreement struck with Hibs.
United’s continued struggle for goals had raised the prospect that Paatelainen might try to recall the striker, who has made three appearances for Hibs. However, the Finn has confirmed Anier’s short-term future is up to Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs to decide.
“His loan deal with Hibs is season-long,” he said. “But, before the middle of January, Hibs can decide whether they keep him for the rest of the season or not.
“I have spoken to Stubbsy and they [Hibs] will decide in due course,” he added.