Scotland Under-21 head coach Scot Gemmill has urged defender John Souttar to earn Alex McLeish’s trust by seizing his chance to impress in the senior squad.
The stand-in Hearts captain has been handed a maiden call-up by McLeish for Friday’s Hampden friendly against Belgium and the opening Uefa Nations League clash at home to Albania three days later.
Souttar’s inclusion comes following months of lobbying by Hearts manager Craig Levein, who also recently claimed that the player could defect to Australia courtesy of his mother’s lineage.
The 21-year-old’s promotion forced Gemmill to reshuffle after the centre-back had been included in his original roster for the Euro 2019 qualifiers against Andorra and the Netherlands on Thursday and next Tuesday respectively.
However, Gemmill is thrilled to see Souttar being recognised by the full national team.
He said: “I’m delighted he’s been called up. John is like everyone else, he needs to take that opportunity and that’s the constant pressure and hurdle that is put in front of young players, to meet the challenge and show they can be trusted.
“John has moved up and Scott McKenna started the under-21s with us and then quickly progressed and captained his country during the summer.
“It does feel as if there has been a real improvement in terms of the players being in the mix and being trusted to play.
“The media and the fans saw that area of the team as needing more depth and I think the 21s have really stepped up.
“Not only being given it, but taking it and we wish John all the best, if he plays, to go and maximise that opportunity.
“If you think of the players who are with the full squad that can still play for the 21s, that alone shows the strength and depth with the 21s; the fact the manager is trusting them to play and it’s another young player being given an opportunity.”
Gemmill, meanwhile, has defended his decision to twice overlook Jason Kerr after St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright criticised the defender’s omission.
The 21-year-old was left out of the initial squad before Gemmill then opted for Hamburg centre-half David Bates following Souttar’s withdrawal.
Wright made his feelings clear on both occasions and claimed Gemmill’s stance is “beyond on belief”.
Gemmill said: “It’s straightforward in my head. I contacted Jason out of courtesy before I announced the squad. I told him we were working towards the next age group, therefore we were selecting a couple of younger defenders along with John Souttar as the older defender. John got promoted to the full squad and we’ve decided to bring in David Bates. We feel delighted we could give Jason the experience to play at international level; he went to the Toulon Tournament and has played for the under-21s.
“David has not had that opportunity yet and he is playing at a good level. We tried to give him the experience when he was still a Rangers player but he was actually injured during the latter part of his Rangers career.
“Our job is to give the best young players in the country the experience and opportunity. Jason has done a great job for us but right now we’ve decided to give another player an opportunity who has not had one, and that’s David.”
Aberdeen winger Frank Ross, meanwhile, insists Scott McKenna’s rapid ascent from Dons fringe player to stand-in Scotland captain and £7 million Aston Villa target inspires him after earning his first under-21s call-up.
He said: “This time last year Scott was training with the (Aberdeen) 20s every week, struggling for confidence every week. He was actually considering packing it in and going to work with his dad.
“But then he came away with the 21s and played against Holland and hasn’t looked back since. Now he’s a £10m man.
“Since we were 16 (and) full-time at Aberdeen there would have been myself, Scott Wright, Scott McKenna, Brucie (Anderson) and Connor (McLennan).
“We’ve all done the jobs and cleaned the boots when we were 16 wanting to play for the first team.
“Now it’s happening it’s good and I know these trips could be so valuable to me.”