There’s always a caveat with John Souttar.
He could be playing out of his skin for Rangers and Scotland but still, there would be that niggling doubt. Can he stay fit? That’s always the question when his name is mentioned and the Ibrox fans are guilty of it now. Despite being pretty much injury free for the past five months, they can’t help themselves. Most of them rate Souttar highly. They see him and Connor Goldson as Gers’ strongest central defensive partnership. But he knows there will always be question marks. And he gets it. After snapping his achilles tendon THREE times at Hearts before getting to Govan, it’s incredible that he’s even at this level.
Then last season, his Rangers career stalled after just one game –the opening day at Livingston – before he spent more time on
the sidelines. He’s now back, fully fit, and gearing up for arguably the biggest season of his life. But he doesn’t blame punters for asking whether he can stand up to the rigours of a potential 50-game campaign.
Because Souttar says he’s still proving to himself that he can get through it. As he prepared for today’s final pre-season friendly against Hoffenheim in Germany, the 26-year-old said: “It’s natural for fans to question if I can stay fit because I was injured last year. That’s just a fact, so I understand it. It’s something that I have to accept and do my best to prove wrong.
“The more games I play, the less they’ll feel like that. That’s why it’s my aim to play as many games as I can this season. It’s not even so much about proving other people wrong – I have to prove to myself. Since I came back from injury, that’s all I’ve wanted to do – to stay injury free and bring as much success as possible to this club.
“I feel good and as fit as I have in a long time. I’ve had a good pre-season and I feel sharp. It’s a big season for me personally because obviously last year didn’t go the way I wanted it to. But that just makes this season all the more important. It’s definitely a big campaign for me. I feel like a Rangers player now and that just comes from playing games. I feel comfortable within the group now, comfortable playing in this team and I’m ready to show people what I can do.”
Souttar is approaching what should be the peak years of his career at Ibrox. But there’s been one thing missing so far – a winner’s medal. He’s been involved in three finals so far at Hearts and Dundee United and ended up on the losing side. The defender knows it’s a run that has to end at Ibrox this term, with Michael Beale’s side under pressure to get their hands on silverware.
And by next summer, he’d love to be a winner with Rangers, as well as preparing for a European Championships in Germany with his country. Souttar said: “It would be massive for me to win medals and trophies this season. That’s why I joined this club. It would be huge for me to achieve that. Even though we’ve brought in a lot of new players, we know we have to win this season.
“The boys who have come in have to hit the ground running, which I’m sure they will do. Of course, getting to the Euros with Scotland next summer is a target of mine but first of all, I need to concentrate on Rangers. Hopefully I can get a good season under my belt, continue to improve and the rest will take care of itself.”
Souttar currently has Ben Davies and Leon Balogun as competition to start for Beale at centre-back this season. Goldson is due back in training next week and is expected to return for the Premiership opener against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park next Saturday. The Scot says Gers’ vice-captain is crucial to their side – on and off the pitch – and would love to cement their partnership at the back. Souttar has become renowned for breaking out of Beale’s defensive line and he feels his manager wants him to do more of it.
He said: “Every team wants their best players on the pitch and Connor is one of our best players. He’s also a top man. On the pitch and off it, he’s massive for us. With the experience he’s got, that can only benefit any team.
“We’ve got a good group of boys here and there’s strong competition for every place now. But in the few games I’ve played with Connor, I’ve really enjoyed the partnership. We’ve also got Jack Butland in behind us now which is encouraging. Centre-backs at this club get quite a lot of time on the ball, especially in the league so it’s important that we start attacks for the team.
“It’s something the manager encourages me to do, or whoever is playing back there.”