John Souttar laughs off Craig Levein interference claims

There has been speculation Craig Levein has final say on first-team affairs. Picture: Ian Georgeson
There has been speculation Craig Levein has final say on first-team affairs. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Hearts defender John Souttar says former Jambos skippers Michael Stewart and Gary Mackay sparked howls of laughter in the Tynecastle dressing room with their claims Craig Levein is picking the team.

The Gorgie youngster could barely contain his snigger when asked about the ex-Gorgie captains’ remarks.

If you knew how it works at Hearts you’d know those claims are just ridiculous.

John Souttar

Both men have questioned the role of director of football Levein following the club’s slow start to the campaign and even suggested he has been interfering with head coach Robbie Neilson’s line-up selections.

But Souttar insists Stewart and Mackay have no idea how things currently work behind the scenes at Hearts.

He said: “Some of the boys were talking about it in the dressing room and having a laugh about it because, honestly, if you knew how it works at Hearts you’d know those claims are just ridiculous.

“It’s laughable because the gaffer is obviously the gaffer.

“Craig comes in to training sometimes to watch but at the end of the day the gaffer is the one making the decisions.

“What was written was so far-fetched we all just had a good laugh at it in the dressing room.”

Souttar has every reason to leap to the defence of Neilson considering the faith the Tynecastle boss has place in him.

The 19-year-old’s career was in danger of stagnating as former club Dundee United headed towards relegation, with the teenager himself short on form amid difficulties pinning down his best position.

But Neilson gambled a six-figure sum on his potential as a ball-playing centre back and has so far been rewarded with a number of encouraging displays that are now even keeping current skipper Alim Ozturk out of the team.

“It’s a tough one because Alim is a good player but from a selfish point of view it’s good because I need to keep playing,” he said.

“The competition here is high so you need to play to a high standard to stay in the team.

“The fact I’m starting ahead of the club captain is a real confidence booster for me and just makes me want to repay the gaffer’s faith in me. He’s been brilliant for me since I came here.

“The criticism we all got during my time at United was fully deserved because we weren’t good enough. Now I think I’ve got my career back on track.

“Looking back it was a good thing I had that tough spell with United. It made me learn a lot of things and made me stronger.”

Souttar will join up with former Tannadice team-mate Ryan Gauld for Scotland Under-21 action next month.

Ricky Sbragia’s men host European Championship qualifying rivals Macedonia on September 2 at Tynecastle before travelling to Ukraine four days later.

And Souttar believes the young Scots will start to see the best of Sporting Lisbon starlet Gauld following his loan switch to Vitoria Setubal.

“I speak to Ryan most days on FaceTime and by text and think he’s enjoying the move,” said the defender, who shared a flat with Gauld during their United stint.

“He’s learning every day. It’s not easy for him being out there but as one of his best pals I’m proud of him and what he’s doing.

“He’s out there on his own making lots of sacrifices and hopefully in the end it will make him a better player.

“Now he’s on loan, he can get back to playing first-team football and that will be good for him. Hopefully this season he can kick on and play well.”

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