THICK AS THIEVES from their time together at Tynecastle, Don Cowie ordinarily welcomes a call from John Souttar. However, the one on Friday left him feeling sick.
Cowie, now the first-team coach at Ross County was among the first people Souttar contacted after suffering a ‘relapse’ in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles sustained against Rangers in February.
The news was numbing.
Souttar has already lost more than two years to the treatment table and it is understood Hearts expect to learn whether he will require further surgery today (Monday).
But one thing is for certain, according to Cowie: if Souttar’s fate comes down to attitude, character and work ethic, he will be back.
He said: “I felt sick when John called me to let me know what had happened.
“I wouldn’t wish what he has gone through in the past three years on anyone.
“We all know how good he is, and how good he could be, so to get another set-back is tragic.
“The mental side of it is unimaginable, particularly given he was just getting back to full fitness. Now, this. But what I said to John was: ‘If anyone can come back from this, it’s you.’
“That’s easy for me to say but I genuinely believe it because I’ve seen how he has dealt with these things in the past.
“It will take days, maybe weeks, to digest what has happened but once that is done, I have full confidence John has the personality and desire to get back.”
A ruptured Achilles tendon in both legs (‘my surgeon can’t think of any other person who’s done both,’ Souttar said in a recent interview with the Sunday Mail), ankle, knee and hip issues make up a lamentable list of past injuries.
The hope at Tynecastle, for the moment, is simply that Souttar, still only 23 years of age, is not in risk of losing his fledgeling, cruelly-interrupted career.
This latest blow comes at a particularly brutal time, casting a cloud over Hearts’ return to training this morning following their contentious, enforced hiatus.
He was also likely to have been part of Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad for the upcoming Nations’ League fixtures against Israel and the Czech Republic as he sought to add to his three caps.
And Cowie cannot help but rue the ongoing absence of a player he believes is capable of being a mainstay at international level.
Cowie adds: “The highest compliment I can pay John is that he’s one of the best defenders I’ve played with during in my career.
“He’s quick, has learned to be aggressive, puts in the hours in the gym and is an incredible passer of the ball, which you really need now.
“I’ve no doubt he would be playing every game for Scotland if he had enjoyed a clean bill of health. Sadly that hasn’t been the case.
“I can only hope that his recovery goes well and he can start progressing towards that level again.”
Cowie, signed for Hearts by Robbie Neilson, does take some solace in the support network Souttar will find at Tynecastle.
He added: “He has great people around him in his family, and they will support him, and he could not have a better manager during what will be a tough time.
“Robbie’s man-management style is terrific and I’m sure he’ll be working with John in the right way.
“John is a hugely infectious character and is usually the man in the dressing room making others laugh and lifting the spirits – but now it’s time for his teammates, friends and family to be the ones doing that for him.”