John Souttar: Why Hearts boss has personal and professional differences on squad situation

As his friend, Hearts boss Robbie Neilson was hoping John Souttar would be part of Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s plans for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Denmark.

But, as his club gaffer, he has confessed that he was relieved to see the 25-year-old omitted from the squad once again.

Such is the defender’s importance to the Gorgie side, who suffered their first league defeat of the season, at Pittodrie, last weekend.

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“On a personal note, I’d like to see him in the squad, but on a professional note, as his manager, I’d rather he wasn’t, as that keeps him fit for us,” Neilson said.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson wants to see John Souttar extend his contract with the Gorgie club and keep pushing for a way back into Scotland boss Steve Clarke's squad. Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group

“John is still recovering from his two years of injury, so for us it’s good to play the games with us and get his recovery in the international break and then come back again.”

Those Achilles injuries killed off any hopes Souttar had of playing any part in the national team’s return to major finals, having to satisfy himself with the role of supporter as Clarke led the country to the Euros. But, the ball-playing centre-back, who has three Scotland caps to his name, having made the breakthrough in 2018, would love to force his way back into the reckoning, especially as the 2022 World Cup comes into focus.

“I’m sure he’s round about selection,” said Neilson. “But when you look at the players and consistency Scotland have got in those positions, he’s probably going to have to bide his time.

“I haven’t actually spoken to Steve, who will very much make his own decisions. But, he is very loyal to the boys that he’s got in there, he’s always been like that, he’s built his career coaching like that, so John just needs to wait.

“He’s a very good player, but he has to do it, week in, week out, for 90 minutes. He’s been doing that so far this season, but from my perspective I’d rather he just concentrates on Hearts.”

On Saturday the Tynecastle side return home intent on righting last Saturday’s wrongs before the club game is forced to hand the floor over to international fixtures.

And, if Souttar maintains the form he has shown this season, Neilson does not believe it will be long before he is back in the Scotland fold and he refutes any suggestion that he could further advance that cause by moving south of the border.

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In the final year of his contract, Souttar can sign a pre-contract agreement when the transfer window opens in January but, having knocked back offers for him in the summer, it would take a significant sum to tempt Hearts to part with one of the key men before the end of the season.

“I think there’s more [to come from Souttar],” said Neilson. “I think his fitness levels can keep going. His general fitness can get better the more games he plays and there is that confidence that he has in himself as well, so I think there’s still quite a lot of improvement in him.

“Being here gives him the best opportunity to be in the Scotland squad. We’re hopefully playing at the top end of the league, competing at the highest level and hopefully that’ll give him a platform.”

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