Hearts defender John Souttar has admitted that he felt he owed it to the club to sign a new long-term contract after describing how he has made profound improvements to his game since joining three years ago.
The Scotland internationalist yesterday put pen to paper on a new deal that will keep him at Tynecastle until summer 2022, with his previous agreement due to expire two years earlier.
Aside from the injury woe – a ruptured Achilles and a hip operation he has only just recovered from – Souttar is delighted with the progress he is making on the field.
Indeed, the 22-year-old is now in possession of three national team caps after earning a debut in last September’s friendly defeat to Belgium.
Souttar had arrived at Tynecastle in January 2016 with his confidence dented by the realisation his career had stagnated playing in a floundering Dundee United side.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s televised Premiership match at Kilmarnock, Souttar has said he saw no reason not to continue working under manager Craig Levein.
“I enjoy it here, I really like working under the gaffer,” said Souttar, who saw defensive partner Christophe Berra sign a new contract on Tuesday.
“I like the whole club, how it’s run – it’s a real family club.
“They took me here when I was going through a bad time in my career so I owe them something back as well.
“I feel a completely different player now; I am older, more experienced.
“I felt like a young boy when I came and now I am probably one of the most experienced players in the team when it comes to playing games for my age.
“The gaffer has been great for me in terms of playing me and giving me lots of opportunities.
“And I have learned so much from playing alongside Christophe Berra.
“When he first came in I played that whole season in a back three alongside him and Aaron Hughes.
“And that was amazing for my development.”
The formidable defensive partnership of Souttar and Berra, who spent four months out at the start of the season with a hamstring tear, was renewed in last weekend’s victory over St Johnstone.
Souttar was also encouraged by captain Berra’s decision to sign fresh terms.
He added: “Everyone knows what a leader he is – and every club needs someone like Christophe, someone who has been here when he was younger, is a fan and has been there as a kid.
“The fans appreciate having someone like that. So it was important for the club to tie him down.
“I have learned from the older players, they set a great example.
“You want to play football for as long as you can – and these guys are doing it.
“So anything you can learn from them, you take it on board and learn from them – on and off the pitch.”
Hearts boss Craig Levein, meanwhile, hopes Berra – who turned 34 yesterday – has plenty more years left in him.
Levein said: “He’s a old-fashioned warrior and I think he’ll play for a while.
“He is still very athletic and does not have many injury problems other than the one that he got earlier in the season and he seems to have come back very strongly from that.
“He is good to have in the building, on the field – his attitude is second to none so it’s a no-brainer getting him tied up.
“I hope he never winds down. The thing that puts head and shoulders above everybody else is his attitude.”