Comment: Dundee United boy wonder John Souttar now ready to start for Scotland

© SNSJohn Souttar.
John Souttar.

You had to look twice at the team sheet when it was handed to you on that chilly afternoon at Pittodrie.

Who was this John Souttar named in the Dundee United team to face Aberdeen? How old was he? Where was he from? Was his name spelled with one T or two? The questions whizzed around the Press box.

The date was January 2, 2013, and the Tannadice men had travelled north with a bit of a defensive crisis on their hands.

In what would be one of the last major decisions taken by Peter Houston before he quit the club at the end of the month, the manager chose a tall, fresh-faced youngster to make a dramatic debut.

The drama came with the discovery that Souttar, at the tender of just 16 years and 100 days, was about to become the club’s youngest-ever first-team player.

The record held by Ian Mitchell had stood since 1962 so this was something very special indeed.

As if making a debut against the Dons in the New Year fixture in front of over 13,000 people wasn’t daunting enough, central defender Souttar was asked by Houston to play an unfamiliar right-back role in what was a makeshift backline.

Significantly, though, the youngster had the experienced Jon Daly playing alongside him at the back in what turned out to be a 2-2 draw, with the Irish striker switching to the heart of defence in time of crisis.

It was Daly, now on the coaching staff at Hearts, who would later pinpoint the big difference between the player Souttar was at Tannadice and the Tynecastle regular and Scotland squad member he has become.

Daly explained that Souttar now likes defending.

That may not be a startling revelation for a professional footballer but what he meant was that the now 21-year-old loves the physical battle at the back when once he was a boy playing against men.

He is confident enough to do the simple thing first and foremost, whereas some over-thinking cost him the occasional mistake at United.

If, as must be hoped and even expected, he gets to pull on a Scotland jersey in the friendly against Belgium and/or Nations League opener against Albania, this “new” Souttar – both older and wiser – will likely be as accomplished on his international debut as he was on that day against the Dons when he took the first tentative step of his career.