Craig Levein believes John Souttar is good enough to play in the English Premier League but the good news for the Hearts manager and supporters is that the defender, rated as the club’s most valuable asset, is in no hurry to leave.
Jamie Walker, a free agent in the summer, could join League One leaders Wigan Athletic before the January transfer window closes but Levein was disdainful concerning a rumoured £1m bid from Derby County for Souttar.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin may have grabbed the headlines after the team registered a sixth consecutive clean sheet for the first time ever at Pittodrie on Saturday, but Levein went out of his way to praise the 21-year-old.
He view is that, if the former Dundee United defender maintains his current form, then he won’t have to worry about moving to an English Championship side as he will be ready for better by the end of this season.
That would be two years prior to the end of Souttar’s current contract and sure to bring rich rewards for both parties.But the player, whose career has already suffered setbacks, including eight months out with an Achilles tendon injury, wisely refuses to take anything for granted.
“It’s obviously nice to hear that from the gaffer but I am just focused on Hearts right now. The club took me in when I wasn’t in the best of form and they have developed me,” he said. “I am due them something back and also due the fans something back because they have been brilliant to me.
“I am not thinking about anything else, I just want to be part of a successful Hearts team. The January window isn’t something I have even thought about.
“When I was younger I experienced it and probably struggled with it a wee bit, but I’m 21 now and have more experience behind me. So it’s not something that will bother me.
“I just want to enjoy the break and come back ready to go again. The last year had a lot of lows for me with my Achilles, so it has been good to end it like it has.
“I just want to keep developing in 2018 and helping the team climb up the table. We are back at Tynecastle now so there is plenty to look forward to.”
Especially if Levein can use the winter shutdown to unearth a striker capable of exploiting that strong defensive unit that has gone nine games without defeat and 561 minutes in total since conceding a goal.
The Hearts manager is also trying to negotiate a new deal for 30-year-old McLaughlin, pictured, who only signed on for a year after a successful trial last August and Souttar for one is more than happy to heap praise on the more experienced players for their contribution lately.
The emergence of a number of exciting young players has reinvigorated a club that was going nowhere under former head coach Ian Cathro, but Souttar, a product of Dundee United’s youth policy, credits the influence of those in the more recent stage in his development.
“When the gaffer (Levein) came in he said we had to stop losing goals, become harder to beat and give ourselves a platform to build on.” he added. “That’s something we have done lately and I think we are getting better all the time.
“We do a lot of work on how the manager wants to play and then on top of that I am learning from Aaron Hughes and Christophe Berra all the time. They have been really important to my development.
“I have learned loads from them on and off the pitch, they are experienced and pass on what they have picked up to me. It’s massive for us to have them and also Don Cowie in the dressing room because they lead by example.
“All the young players at the club look up to them and get lessons on how you should live your life on the pitch and off it.
“They are role models for the rest of the team. I know the likes of Harry Cochrane are really looking up to them and seeing how they live their lives.
“You have to have players like that around the place. They are looking at Don putting in 12k during matches at the age of 34 and they see how it should be done.”