Rangers and Celtic will be missing a trick if they don't make a move for Hearts defender John Souttar
The Hearts defender is understood to have already received a pre-contract proposal from Blackburn Rovers, while their fellow English Championship promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest are expected to follow suit.
Stoke City manager Michael O’Neill is another credited with a serious interest in luring Souttar south when his contract with Hearts expires at the end of the season.
It is believed the 25-year-old Scotland international finds the prospect of moving to a different environment appealing as he seeks the next challenge of his career.
But it would be surprising if the two clubs with the financial muscle to persuade Souttar to continue plying his trade in the Scottish Premiership did not attempt to do so.
There are compelling reasons why the former Dundee United player looks like he would be a good fit for either Rangers or Celtic. Based on the outstanding form Souttar has displayed for Hearts this season, he would significantly strengthen the central defensive department of both Old Firm sides.
Of the two, Rangers have been more regularly linked with a potential move for Souttar. Previous Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard was known to be an admirer and he will certainly still be on the radar of sporting director Ross Wilson as he works with current boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst during the Dutchman’s first transfer window of his tenure.
Van Bronckhorst has successfully tightened up the Rangers defence since his arrival with a run of six consecutive clean sheets before the winter break helping the champions to establish a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership table.
But it’s clear that Rangers are not as well resourced in central defence as they would ideally wish to be. Calvin Bassey, signed as a left-back, has been pressed into action at the heart of the back four in the absence of injured duo Filip Helander and Leon Balogun.
Jack Simpson, signed from Bournemouth a year ago, has struggled to make the grade at Ibrox and could be offloaded this month, while Nikola Katic remains on loan at Hajduk Split for the rest of the season.
While both Swedish international Helander and Nigerian international Balogun are poised to return to training after the winter break, uncertainty continues to surround Connor Goldson who has been the lynchpin of Rangers’ defence since his recruitment from Brighton in the summer of 2018.
The four-year contract Goldson signed back then now has just five months left to run. With no indication forthcoming that the 29-year-old will agree to a new deal, Rangers are understood to be comfortable with the scenario of the player moving on in the summer. They feel they have received excellent value for the £3 million they paid for Goldson and will look to keep him on board for the remainder of their title defence, rather than sell him this month for a cut-price fee.
Souttar ticks a lot of boxes as a potential replacement for Goldson. His age profile would make him a solid investment, while both his defensive qualities and excellent technical ability on the ball should appeal to van Bronckhorst.
While there has been less speculation regarding any Celtic interest in Souttar, it would hardly be a shock if they were to emerge as strong contenders for his signature.
Ange Postecoglou’s immediate priority on the central defensive front is to try and tie up a permanent deal for United States international Cameron Carter-Vickers whose season-long loan deal from Spurs includes an option-to-buy clause in the region of £6 million.
But even if that transfer can be secured, Postecoglou has made no secret of the fact he feels every part of his current squad requires more strength in depth.
Although Christopher Jullien is closing in on a return from injury, the Celtic manager would welcome further options in an area where Swedish international Carl Starfelt has yet to fully convince since joining at the start of the season but is still regularly preferred to Scotland under-21 international Stephen Welsh.
Souttar would certainly be more than capable of establishing himself as a first pick for Rangers or Celtic.
If either club do decide to seriously pursue him in the coming days, the biggest challenge may be in convincing Souttar that heading along the M8 to Glasgow is a better option than travelling down the M6 for a fresh start in England’s second tier.
It would be completely understandable if Souttar feels teams like Blackburn Rovers or Nottingham Forest could eventually take him onto the same Premier League stage as his Scotland team-mates such as Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, John McGinn and Scott McTominay.
Tony Mowbray’s Rovers currently sit in an automatic promotion spot as they look to return to the top flight for the first time since 2012, while Forest are still in play-off contention under their well-regarded manager Steve Cooper.
What neither of them can offer Souttar, however, is the chance of winning silverware and playing European group stage football on a regular basis. With an almost guaranteed place in the Champions League group stage the prize for this season’s Premiership title winners, that’s a not inconsiderable bargaining chip in any negotiations.
It may be that Souttar has already made up his mind that he wants to give English football a shot. But until that becomes fully apparent, it would be remiss of Rangers and Celtic not to ask the question of arguably the most talented Scottish central defender currently operating.
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