Scottish Daily Mail
Hearts want £500k to let Souttar go now
Hearts won’t release Souttar in January for less than £500k
HEARTS are holding out for £500,000 up front — plus significant add-ons — before even considering allowing John Souttar to join Rangers this month. The Scotland defender last night signed a pre-contract agreement, committing himself to become a Rangers player once his Tynecastle deal expires at the end of the season. He agreed terms on a lucrative package after meeting with Ibrox boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst and sporting director Ross Wilson yesterday. That took the Hearts hierarchy by surprise, with the player understood to have told club officials his preference was to explore options in England instead of moving along the M8 to sign for a domestic rival. However, the ambitious Gorgie club would rather lose Souttar for nothing in the summer than take a cut-price deal now. A statement on the Hearts website read: ‘Heart of Midlothian Football Club notes Rangers Football Club’s announcement of
John Souttar’s pre-contract signing.
‘The club reiterates that John is an important member of the first-team squad and will remain so until the end of the season unless a significant and satisfactory offer is made during the January transfer window. No further comment will be made at this time.’
Rangers boss Van Bronckhorst would like to get the centre-half in during the January window — and the 25-year-old would also prefer to make a clean break now.
However, with up to £4million on the line should Hearts qualify for Europe by finishing third in the Premiership, the Tynecastle board are prepared to dig in their heels.
Head coach Robbie Neilson has gone on record as saying that only a ‘huge bid’ would compensate for the potential earnings from getting to the group stage of the Europa Conference League.
With Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers among those to have made overtures to Souttar in recent weeks, Tynecastle insiders genuinely thought he was set to move south of the border.
Rangers, meanwhile, were delighted to get their man, with Wilson saying: ‘We are really looking forward to John joining Rangers and continuing his development under Gio, our coaching and support staff.
‘John is a full Scotland international and has so much potential ahead for the coming years. I have really enjoyed getting to know John across all of our conversations so far and I can see how excited he and his family are to be joining Rangers. We are equally excited to welcome John to Ibrox.’
A £120,000 signing from Dundee United in 2016, Souttar has suffered three serious Achilles tendon injuries during his time at Hearts.
Finally fully fit, he earned his first Scotland cap in three years last November — and marked the occasion by scoring the first goal in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Denmark at Hampden.
On top of his dominant performances in the Hearts back line this season, that put him on the radar of several clubs.
Rangers see him as an immediate contender for a starting place — and a potential successor to Connor Goldson, who is out of contract in the summer and showing few signs of agreeing terms on an extended deal.
Meanwhile, one Hearts player staying put is Michael Smith, who has signed a one-year extension which keeps him at Tynecastle until the summer of 2023.
The 33-year-old Northern Ireland defender, who joined the Gorgie side from Peterborough United in 2017, has become the fourth player to commit his future to the club following new deals for Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett and Stephen Kingsley.
As the Premiership gets set to resume after the winter break, Neilson’s side are in third place, nine points behind Celtic and 15 behind leaders Rangers.
Smith believes Hearts are ‘building something special’ and he told HeartsTV that European football next season is on his agenda.
He said: ‘We’re building something special here and I want to be part of it and see where we go.
‘We spoke in the summer before the season started and we were just newly-promoted, but we are a massive club and we should be in Europe. That is still the goal.
‘So hopefully we can stay in third place or even kick on and push for the top two.
‘I would love to get the club into Europe and challenge for top three every year, back to where the club should be.
‘We have had a few up and down years and it would be great to get some stability back.
‘It is definitely the best squad I have been involved in. We have brought in good quality.’