After several years at Tannadice together, they reunited at Hearts a year ago and while the winger would hate to lose the man who netted for Scotland in the recent triumph over Denmark, he says he would not grudge the centre-back any opportunity to improve himself or his circumstances.
Having refused a new deal to hang around in Gorgie, Souttar is free to sign a pre-contract in January, and there are several big clubs all interested. Hearts have made it clear that sizable compensation would be needed to steal him away during this window as there could be greater worth in keeping hold of him for as long as they can. But if and when he does move on, he will do so with the best wishes of the men who share a dressing room with the 25-year-old and have seen what he has been through in recent years.
Including multiple Achilles tears, a hip injury and an ankle problem that required surgery, Souttar has endured an injury timeline that may have crushed those with a weaker mindset but, an integral part of the team that will host Ross County today, before the Premiership clubs start their winter break, he found a way back, and Mackay-Steven says that strength of character only enhances the overall package.
“We want him to do as well as he can here at Hearts. The longer he stays here, the better for us.
“But, I’d be delighted for John [if a dream move materialises]. He’s a top boy off the field and on it he’s an amazing player.
“He has been through a lot - I think the toughest time as a footballer is when you’re injured. He has been really unlucky with big injuries.”
Mackay-Steven was actually playing against him, for Celtic, when he first ruptured his tendon, in 2017, and says the subsequent body blows will have been hard.
“After the game, I remember speaking to him. It was devastating. So, to be where he is now says a lot about his character. He looks better than ever. The world’s his oyster and I hope he gets an injury-free run and keeps showing what he can do week in, week out.
“It’s really hard when things are out of your hands and you’re just spending lots of time on the treatment table but his attitude is first class and his professionalism off the pitch has been immense to get himself back to the level he’s at.
“It’s no surprise that he’s done as well as he has. I saw that ability in him from a young age.”
The promotion to United’s first team came early, making the breakthrough aged just 16.
“He was fresh-faced but he had that confidence to play out from the back that is really important in today’s game,” said Mackay-Steven.
“He has never lost that confidence and ability. His defending has also come on leaps and bounds - he very rarely gets beaten. He’s so good with the ball at his feet.”