BY ALAN TEMPLE in BELFAST – @CCP_Sport
JOHN SOUTTAR has set his sights on Celtic as he continues his laudably swift recovery from a devastating Achilles injury.
The 20-year-old saw an impressive campaign cruelly curtailed back in January when he suffered the horrendous damage during a 4-0 defeat against the Hoops at Parkhead.
The initial prognosis suggested that he would be back playing by October, albeit his London-based surgeon was honest enough to outline the worst-case scenario, which could have seen the gifted defender sidelined for a year.
So it is testament to Souttar’s work ethic and powers of recovery that he is well ahead of schedule, taking part in some light work during Hearts’ pre-season trip to Ireland ahead of returning to full training in the near future.
His target is the first game of the Premiership season against the Scottish champions at Celtic Park on August 5; a poignant comeback at the scene of his injury.
Souttar said: “Playing against Celtic is a realistic target and hopefully I can make it.
“When I originally picked up the injury I wouldn’t have thought there was ANY chance of that. October looked a bit more realistic.
“If it happens, brilliant. If it doesn’t, I won’t get too down about it. The main thing is to come back back properly, but it would be fitting to do it against Celtic – especially if we got a result!
“I’m ahead of schedule and back training with the boys. It’s great to be back involved. It’s such a buzz to be back on the grass and feeling part of it all again.
“When I went for surgery the surgeon said that if I looked after my body and did all the things he told me to do in the aftermath then I could be back in six months. He did say that some people were out for around a year.
“A lot of it just depends on how your body and how the injury heals. I’m lucky to have had the right treatment and the right people around me to get me back this quickly.”
Souttar’s scars are mental as well as physical, and he concedes his journey back to training his not been an easy one, from the feeling of helplessness on the treatment table to the process of learning to trust his body again.
However, he has overcome those challenges with admirable maturity for one so young.
And he is absolutely certain that, when he returns to the fold, he will do so a stronger person in every way.
He continued: “When you’re injured you don’t feel like you can contribute to the team, so even being able to do little bits in training is so much better.
“It takes a strong mentality to handle these things. You have to deal with it. I wasn’t dwelling on it. It happened and I had to make the best of it. I set myself mini goals.
“Then it’s about learning to trust your body again. There are all sorts of things you have to think about, like pushing off on it, jumping and so on. I didn’t cut any corners with the rehab exercises.
“If you come through this it makes you a stronger person because it is tough at times. It’s done now so I can only look forward.”
And he firmly believes the future is bright for Hearts. Upon his return, he will step into a defensive unit boasting Christophe Berra, while the attack has been bolstered by the capture of Kyle Lafferty.
Allied with the signings of Michael Smith, Ashley Smith-Brown, Rafal Grzelak and Cole Stockton, Souttar believes Hearts now have a squad pack with quality and leadership; with the latter sorely lacking at times last term.
He added: “It’s an experienced team. Last year we had to go with a very young side but there are big characters and good professionals in the dressing room. It’s an exciting time.”