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Robbie Neilson hoping to persuade John Souttar to sign new Hearts deal

Scotland v Denmark – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group F – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Jane Barlow)

Robbie Neilson hopes John Souttar sees Hearts as the ideal platform to maintain his Scotland ambitions.

Souttar scored and won man of the match on Monday in his first international for three years as Scotland beat Denmark to set up a Hampden semi-final in the World Cup play-offs.

With a potential finals place in Qatar to aim for in 12 months’ time, Neilson is hopeful that Souttar can appreciate the opportunities that playing for Hearts can bring.

The 25-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and Hearts are trying to persuade the defender to sign a new deal.

When asked if that task had been made more difficult by his international exploits, Neilson said: “I don’t think it will put him in (the spotlight) any more. A lot of teams know about John.

“They key for John is playing consistently week in, week out, which we are giving him that opportunity to do here, and hopefully we can continue to do that.

“Playing week in, week out for Hearts at the top end of the league, playing in big games, allows him to get into the national team. And hopefully he sees that.

“As with any players that are doing well, and the team is doing well at the top end of the league, and we have some international players, there is always going to be clubs that are interested in them.

“My job is to make sure he is ready for Saturday and the following Saturday and as a club we try and get these guys tied up.

“We are working away in the background with a number of players to try and get things moving forward because we would like to build a team here. But, as you all know, in football it can take time.

“Obviously it depends where we go financially but I would love to keep him because he is a top person to have about and also a very good footballer.”

Souttar missed the vast majority of the previous two seasons with ankle and Achilles injuries having ruptured his other Achilles earlier in his Hearts career.

“It’s been a tough few years for John,” said Neilson, who has Liam Boyce back from injury for Saturday’s trip to Motherwell. “Getting consistency of fitness has been the key. He started at a young age as a player and looked like he was really going to kick on and all of a sudden had a couple of years of difficulties.

“He has always been level-headed about it and taken it on the chin and said ‘how can I get better and work from it?’ To his credit, he has got the benefits of that.

“The majority of guys who have been out for a long time like that, if you can’t work on your lower body, you work on your upper body. So it has given John that opportunity to bulk himself up a wee bit.

“I still think there is more to come from John. He is playing at a really good level just now but I still think there is a wee bit more there that we can get out of him.”

The former Dundee United player’s improved aerial ability was evident at Hampden as he headed home against the Danes and made a series of clearances late in the game, and he also headed a winner against Celtic earlier this season.

“When I signed him here, that was probably one of his deficiencies,” Neilson said. “But, with training and also just developing as a player and experiencing more, he has definitely got better and it is probably one of the strongest aspects of his game now.”