Christophe Berra has praised his former Hearts team-mate John Souttar for showing the resolve to battle through his injury torment and return to the Scotland fold.
Following the withdrawal of Norwich centre-back Grant Hanley for the World Cup qualifying double-header against Moldova and Denmark, the 25-year-old Tynecastle defender was recalled to the squad on Sunday for the first time in two and a half years.
Injuries have ravaged Souttar’s career to date, restricting him to just three caps under former boss Alex McLeish in 2018.
He has had to fight back from rupturing his Achilles tendon three times, including twice in quick succession, since he last featured in the Scotland set-up as an unused substitute against Belgium in June 2019.
Given the scale of his problems, many doubted whether Souttar could get back to being a regular for Hearts.
But seven months after returning from his latest lengthy lay-off, former Scotland defender Berra is delighted to see his old centre-back partner at Tynecastle being rewarded with a call-up to Steve Clarke’s squad.
Berra told the PA news agency: “It’s incredible the injuries he’s had to come back from. Some people don’t come back from one (ruptured) Achilles but he’s done it three times. It’s not just getting over the injury, it’s the rehab that can be soul-destroying.
“From a mental point of view, never mind doing it once, but to do it three times must have been really tough. Touch wood, I’ve never had many injuries but when I ripped my hamstring (in 2018) and was out for four months – I know that’s not even that long – that’s when I realised how tough it can be for people who are out long term.
“John will have had some dark moments during that time when he doubted himself but he’s got thick skin and is a strong character, and he’s got a supportive family who helped him through it.
“From what I saw at Hearts, he came in every day and did what was asked of him and went above and beyond to try and make himself fitter and stronger. He ticks every box in terms of being a top professional. All credit to him for getting through it.”
Souttar has had a strong start to the season with a Hearts side sitting third in the cinch Premiership.
Former Wolves and Ipswich defender Berra, who won 41 caps for Scotland and is currently with Raith Rovers, believes Souttar can kick on and become a regular for the national team if he stays injury-free.
The 36-year-old said: “Everybody knows the ability John’s got but now he’s in a team that’s doing well, he’s playing regularly, been consistent in his performances, stepping forward out of the back three, and he’s also scored a few goals.
“With John, it’s just been about playing regularly and not getting any injuries. If he can do that, the rest will take care of itself for him. If he didn’t have all those injuries, he’d have had a fair few caps by now.”