Hearts boss Robbie Neilson says John Souttar’s performances for his club had already put him in the spotlight but understands if his Scotland heroics had added to interest in the defender.
Souttar scored the opening goal for his country in the crucial World Cup qualifier against Denmark, and was a solid presence at the back against a team ranked tenth in the world.
The international cap and goal were the latest step on what’s been a long and difficult comeback after three serious injuries and have intensified talk about the 25-year-old.
Souttar had already been linked with a potential move, with a number of clubs credited with an interest in signing him, but Neilson said he was already a man in demand before his Hampden heroics.
“I don’t think it’s put him any more in the spotlight,” he said. “I think a lot of teams know about John.
“The key for him, and I spoke to him about this at the start of the season, is playing consistently, which we’ve given him the opportunity to do here. Hopefully he can continue to do that.
“Playing week in, week out, at the top end of the league with Hearts and in big games allows him to get into the national team, and hopefully he sees that.”
Souttar’s existing contract expires at the end of the season, and he’s free to speak to other clubs in six weeks’ time. Neilson admits he would love to keep the player at Tynecastle and hasn’t given up hope that the centre-back will sign a new deal, though he says negotiations are out of his hands.
Reflecting on the player’s return, he said: “Consistency of fitness has been the key.
“He started at a young age as a player coming through and looked like he was really going to kick on. The obviously he had a few years of difficulties.
“He’s always been level-headed about it and taken it on the chin, said ‘How can I get better?’ and worked on it. To his credit, he’s got the benefits.”
One area where Souttar has shown improvement is in his aerial ability and he has imposed himself at both ends of the pitch in that regard. His improved physique has helped and Neilson says it down to hard work.
“I think for a majority of guys who are out for a long time like that, if you can’t work on your lower body then you work on your upper body,” he said. “It has given John that opportunity to bulk himself up that wee bit.
“I still think there’s more to come from John. He’s playing at a really good level but I still think there’s a little bit more there that we can get out of him.
“When I signed him here in 2016, heading was probably one of his deficiencies. With training but also just developing as a player and experiencing more he’s got better and it’s probably one of the stronger aspects of his game now.”