John Souttar: Scotland call down to help from Christophe Berra & Steven MacLean

John Souttar says he has learned so much from Christophe Berra (right) at Hearts
Souttar says he has learned so much from the experienced Christophe Berra (right) at Hearts

Hearts defender John Souttar says the influence of Christophe Berra is key to the improvements that have led to his Scotland call-up.

Souttar, 21, has taken over the captain's armband at Tynecastle, with Berra, 33, sidelined for six months with a torn hamstring.

A debut cap could now follow in games against Belgium or Albania next month.

"Playing next to Christophe last season has taught me so much about defending," Souttar told BBC Scotland.

"Before that, I was maybe too concentrated on starting attacks; now it's defence first.

"I think all the top centre-halves have had a period in their careers playing next to an experienced defender. Every single day I'm asking questions and trying to learn from Christophe and Aaron Hughes as well."

Souttar also owes a debt of thanks to current team-mate Steven MacLean, who gave him a torrid time as a teenager.

A first-team regular at 16 with Dundee United, the centre-back recalls a few bruising encounters with MacLean, now 36.

"[Former United boss] Jackie McNamara kept playing me, sometimes when I wasn't ready, but looking back now the experience I gained was massive.

"There were times when you'd be uncomfortable going into a battle with a striker who was a lot bigger but it was a learning curve. You had to learn how to use your body and how not to use it.

"Steven is very clever with his body movement, using his elbows mostly. He was tough to play against and thankfully he's on my team now.

"When I was younger and getting bullied by strikers, it wasn't enjoyable but now I have matured physically and enjoy defending more."

'Always my dream to play for Scotland'

Scotland manager Alex McLeish has named Souttar in his squad for the friendly with the Belgians next Friday, 7 September and a Nations League opener against Albania three days later.

"When I was growing up it was always my dream to play for Scotland," he said.

"The goal from as long as I can remember was to pull on the national team jersey. If I get to do that this time, it will be amazing."

"If not, I'll just keep working hard and hopefully the opportunity comes at one point."

Hearts top the Premiership with three wins from three and Souttar aims to make it four in a row against St Mirren on Saturday.

Manager Craig Levein was admitted to hospital on Monday, with the defender saying: "It came as a shock to everyone.

"The gaffer is so loved by everyone in the dressing room; you see the way we work for him. He's on the mend and knowing him he will be itching to get back involved.

"It's important we go out and get the victory for him, which is the best remedy you can get."

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