John Souttar: Dundee United hit back over Hearts boss Craig Levein's claims

John Souttar celebrates Hearts' win at Motherwell
John Souttar has been a key figure in Hearts' early-season rise to Premiership leaders

Dundee United have criticised "derogatory and misleading" claims by Hearts manager Craig Levein that they "nearly ruined" John Souttar's career.

Levein said the new Scotland centre-back's career "went off the rails" when United played him at full-back and in midfield as a teenager at Tannadice.

United say they are "very disappointed" at the comments of their former boss.

"We are rightly proud of our long-standing and widely held reputation for developing young talent," United said.

"We are extremely proud that one of our graduates has progressed into the full Scottish national team and are delighted to have played a significant part in John's development."

Souttar, now 21, made his United debut as a 16-year-old in January 2013 under then manager Peter Houston.

He went on to play 73 games for United over four seasons under Jackie McNamara and then Mixu Paatelainen, also representing Scotland's Under-17s, 19s and and 21s.

But he became a target for United fans as their side stumbled towards relegation from the Premiership and joined Hearts in January 2016.

"People said he wasn't tough enough to be a centre-half," Levein said on Monday. "John has always been a centre-half.

"I'm not being disrespectful but United nearly ruined his career. They played him at right-back, left-back and centre-midfield. It's quite confusing for a young player when you are being moved into three or four different places, and no-one has got your back.

"United sold all their best players and John was left behind, and became an easy target."

Souttar developed an excellent partnership with Christophe Berra at the centre of Hearts' defence last season and was recently made captain after Berra sustained a long-term injury.

He also earned his first full Scotland caps in the recent games against Belgium and Albania.

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Highlights: Motherwell 0-1 Heart of Midlothian

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