Hearts defender John Souttar admits he paid the price for putting the team before himself after breaking down with a ruptured Achilles for a third time last summer.
The Scotland cap is on the verge of a comeback for the first time since February 2020 after being named among the substitutes for Tuesday’s shambolic 2-1 Scottish Cup loss to Brora Rangers.
Souttar has done everything by the book this time after conceding that rushing his recovery was part of the reason he suffered a relapse last August.
Lockdown also had a detrimental effect on Souttar’s rehabilitation after his Achilles curse struck for a second time against Rangers just as the pandemic struck.
If anyone is due a break on the pitch, it is 24-year-old. After sustaining the serious Achilles problem first in January 2017, the former Dundee United player has also been sidelined from undergoing separate hip and ankle operations.
Souttar said: “At the start of the season, the surgeon and the medical staff didn’t put a date on my comeback.
“They said, ‘take your time and don’t rush anything’, because I think previously I personally rushed to get back to the team, which was probably detrimental to me.
“I put the club and the team first at times. This time, after the year I had it was important to take as much time as possible.
“The medical staff and the gaffer (Robbie Neilson) were fully behind me in making sure I took my time this time and making sure I was 100 per cent fit.
“Whereas other times I would be coming back 50, 60 per cent fit trying to help the team and that obviously caught up with me.
“I don’t regret it, it was something I had to do but this time it was important I took the time to get 100 per cent and I’m in no pain now.
“I’m training without any pain so I’m feeling brilliant.”
Being stuck in his house just as the entire country came to a grinding halt last March also compounded Souttar’s misery as he set about getting himself back to fitness after being stretchered off against Rangers in February 2020.
He added: “After the one against Rangers, we went straight into lockdown and that absolutely killed me.
“I was on my own for three, four months in my house doing rehab, which was disastrous.
“It’s a guessing game, you don’t have any professionals around you and can’t have any massages, there is nothing.
“By the time I came back in here, as much as I tried myself at home, if you don’t get professional treatment then it’s difficult.
“When I went and did straight leg running and had a wee rupture again, it was probably the best thing that happened to me because my Achilles had obviously not recovered right.
“At the time it was horrible, don’t get me wrong, all sorts of things are going through your mind when it happens again as naturally it would.
“But now I’m feeling brilliant, probably the best I’ve felt in my career physically.”
One distraction for Souttar during lockdown and rehabilitation was the fact he became a father to Myla at the turn of the year.
He added: “That was the best thing that could have happened to me to be honest because the whole time she was pregnant.
“It also gives you another lease of life when you become a father, it drives you more because you have someone to look after.
“It was an amazing distraction and probably didn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself. I wouldn’t have done anyway.”
Souttar’s impending return is a boost to a club who have been plunged into turmoil following the defeat to Lowland League minnows Brora.
Owner Ann Budge has already pleaded with fans not to protest outside Tynecastle ahead of Saturday’s Championship clash with Queen of the South.
Souttar added: “For me the gaffer has been brilliant from the moment I came in at 19. He has developed me brilliantly.
“Every team is going to go through a tough spell but he has been unbelievable throughout my injury.
“Once we go up our aim is to finish as high as we can next season, that’s what we have to push for.”