John Souttar: Sheffield United dealt another transfer blow as defender reaches agreement with Rangers

Sheffield United have lost the race for John Souttar’s signature, after the Heart of Midlothian and Scotland defender reached a pre-contract agreement with Rangers.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 6:12 pm

News the 25-year-old has also undergone a medical at Ibrox, although his switch to Glasgow has yet to be officially ratified, will come as a major disappointment to Paul Heckingbottom - who is desperate to bolster his central defensive options.

Heckingbottom, the United manager, had spoken openly about his admiration for Souttar ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Derby County. But after seeing another target - former Fleetwood Town youngster James Hill - opt for AFC Bournemouth instead, his plans to reprofile a squad overladen with attackers but short of numbers in other key areas are set to be dealt a fresh blow.

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Souttar, capped four times by his country, was initially minded to pursue a career in England after deciding against agreeing a new deal with Robbie Neilson’s side. Like United, Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City also expressed an interest in luring him across the border although the latter dropped out of the running last weekend.

“Experience is going to be important,” Heckingbottom said, confirming why he was monitoring Souttar despite being encouraged to develop home-grown talent. “You could rip everything up and go with a totally young group. But you’ve got to be winning in order to be competitive.

“Listen, lots of clubs want to do it - make youth and young players the centre of their model. But if you do that at the expense of league position, then it’s the wrong model.”

Sheffield United and Rangers target John Souttar celebrates his first goal for Scotland: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group

Relegated from the Premier League last term, United finalised their preparations for tomorrow’s contest ranked 13th in the Championship but with four matches in hand on sixth-placed Huddersfield Town. That backlog of fixtures came when a series of opponents postponed games against Heckingbottom’s men over the Christmas and New Year period due to positive tests for Covid-19.

Heckingbottom contracted the coronavirus following Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and will watch his squad in action at County via a video link.

The former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian chief is believed to have held talks with Souttar and his representatives earlier this month. But Rangers persuaded Souttar to remain in the Scottish Premiership during a series of meetings between him, their manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst and director of football Ross Wilson.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom wants defender John Souttar: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

With Jack Robinson a doubt to face County and the on-loan Ben Davies having only just returned to training following a personal issue, Heckingbottom could be forced to name either Rhys Norrington-Davies or Kyron Gordon in the middle of his rearguard at Pride Park. Wayne Rooney, Heckingbottom’s counterpart in the east Midlands, also has problems there after administrators withdrew his contract offer to ex-United defender Phil Jagielka. He is now set for Stoke City.

“We might do some but we don’t want to focus on loans,” said Heckingbottom, whose predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic was limited to temporary and free transfers before being fired in November. “If the only thing we can do is loans then it’s a short term thing and, for us, we don’t really get all of the benefit of our hard work from that.”

Centre-half John Souttar in action for Hearts: Craig Foy / SNS Group