Sports

Harry Souttar: ‘Until last season, I never really felt like a Stoke player’ | Stoke City


There could never be a good place to sustain an anterior cruciate ligament injury. The crushing blow sustained by Harry Souttar in Sydney arrived with immediate realisation that he had to complete a lengthy journey back home to England. Leg one, to Dubai, at least came with support given Souttar’s international colleagues were heading for a World Cup qualifier against China.

“Leg room on planes isn’t great for me anyway but with this injury it was 10 times worse,” says Souttar, who stands at 6ft 6in. “The physios were unbelievable at trying to look after me even though it was a night flight, topping up ice and giving medication.”

Souttar is now 10 weeks post-operation and back working in the gym. Pre-season is a legitimate target for an on-field return. An indicator of Souttar’s sharp development under Michael O’Neill at Stoke is endorsed by the fact the commanding centre-half was linked with umpteen Premier League clubs immediately before cruel fortune struck. Souttar, 23, joined Stoke from Dundee United at 17. As the club struggled, he feared the move might never work out.

“I think of the scene from Goal the movie when he signs for Newcastle and told he is training with the first team,” Souttar says. “That was like me. I was told I was going to train with the first team: Arnautovic, Shaqiri, Adam, Shawcross; I could go on. I was signing these guys on Football Manager two months earlier.”

It took until early last season for Souttar to encounter a sense of worth. After loans to Ross County and Fleetwood, O’Neill successfully challenged the player to elevate his own status. “He thought I could stay and play here if I was patient,” Souttar recalls. “I wasn’t in the squad for the first few games then got into the team for a cup tie against Gillingham and stayed. I played 38 of 46 league games. I think about it a lot; in my head at one point I would be heading back to Fleetwood and weeks later I’m playing in the Championship. Fine lines.

“Up until last season, I never really felt like a Stoke player. I was signed by the club but I had been on loan and in my head the first team was so far away, especially when I was younger and they were in the Premier League. For the manager to say I could stay and get a chance was all I needed. Then he kept faith in me. I started to think: ‘You know what, I do belong here and I’m not just being picked to fill a jersey.’ The manager told me I could influence games and start play from the back, that I was important. I could tell myself had a lot of responsibility.” Souttar emphasises “a real solidarity” at Stoke now, and it seems easy to infer that has not always been the case amid relegation from the top flight and the carnage as followed.

The 6ft 6in Harry Souttar battles with Jack Stacey during Stoke’s game at home to Bournemouth last October.
The 6ft 6in Harry Souttar battles with Jack Stacey during Stoke’s game at home to Bournemouth last October. Photograph: Robin Jones/AFC Bournemouth/Getty Images

There is no wild controversy attached to the fact that Souttar, born and bred in Scotland, represents Australia, for whom, he qualifies via his mother. Australia made a pitch for Souttar and succeeded. He loves the environment, which renders the injury picked up in his 10th cap, against Saudi Arabia, somewhat bittersweet.

“I have had an unbelievable two years with Australia,” he says. “It is such a great group, one big family. I am always so excited to see everyone.

“As soon as I went to turn, I felt a pop in my knee. I knew it was something bad. The outside of my knee right down to my foot was in tingling pain. My attitude was: it has happened. I can’t go back and change it. Yes, I was disappointed but I had to crack on. I can look very close to home; John [his brother] has had three achilles injuries, has been out for a number of years. This is nothing compared to what he has been through.”

Harry Souttar is about to be carried from the field after sustaining an ACL injury playing for Australia against Saudi Arabia in November.
Harry Souttar is about to be carried from the field after sustaining an ACL injury playing for Australia against Saudi Arabia in November. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Perspective does indeed arrive within a family circle. John Souttar has battled back wonderfully from career-threatening problems, the 25-year-old now in the Scotland fold and having agreed to join Rangers from Hearts. For a long time, Harry was viewed only as the brother of John, who made a Dundee United debut at 16. “It was a reason I wanted to come to England as soon as I could, to make my own name. I was my own man when I came down here and I absolutely loved that.”

Adversity has brought the siblings closer. “We are in contact most days,” says Harry. “Strangely enough that wasn’t really the case when we were both at Dundee United, in the same building.

“He has given me so many tips, some books to read and things to write down that helped him through injuries. I know if I have problems I always have him to speak to. I’m delighted for him the way things have turned out because I remember – I don’t think he will mind me saying this – after the third achilles injury we had a conversation over WhatsApp and he was like: ‘I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what to do now.’ It could have been his career over at the age of 23. I am lucky to have him.”

John Souttar with Scotland’s manager Steve Clarke after his goal set the team en route to a 2-0 win over Denmark in November.
John Souttar, Harry’s brother, with Scotland’s manager Steve Clarke after his goal set the team en route to a 2-0 win over Denmark in November. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

Souttar is reluctant to disclose much about the health struggles of a third brother, Aaron, but there is acknowledgment that he, too, is a source of inspiration. “I don’t really want to speak about it because I don’t think it’s my story to tell but that is the case,” Souttar adds. “We all support him. Again, to see what he is going through and to see how he is taking it and coping … whenever I am in a bad place I just think of him or John. My problems don’t seem all that relevant.”

Souttar has Qatar on his mind as he plots a comeback. “When you are injured it’s good to have goals to keep you motivated,” he says. “That’s a major one for me, to be playing in a World Cup would be incredible.” For now, the small steps of recovery continue.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

close