STEPHEN MCMANUS reckons John Souttar can be a future star for Scotland – but the former national team skipper does not believe he is ready to be a part of Gordon Strachan’s present line-up.
The Scots have kicked off another campaign with Russell Martin and Grant Hanley at the heart of their defence, with 35-year-old Gordon Greer there as back-up.
But that has only raised concerns about the lack of fresh blood coming through the defensive ranks.
While full-backs Andy Robertson and Callum Paterson, widemen Oliver Burke and Barrie McKay, as well as midfielder John McGinn, have all been promoted to Strachan’s squad in recent times, the manager has been reluctant to pitch Hearts defender Souttar, 19, into his group, despite his impressive form for Robbie Neilson’s Tynecastle outfit.
And McManus believes that is the right course to take during a crucial stage in the former Dundee United teenager’s development.
The Motherwell defender is a huge fan of Souttar but thinks that until he gains the big-match experience needed to compete on the international stage, Strachan is right to go with his trusted stoppers.
Speaking as he helped launch the public sale of tickets ahead of next month’s Hampden clash with Lithuania, the 26-time capped centre-back said: “Unfortunately for John right now he is not being tested by Champions League football, he’s not getting a taste for European football – but he is definitely one who has got a big, big future in the game.
“He went through a bit of a tough time at Dundee United but is settled now at Hearts and performing well.
“He’s young and the one thing you know with young centre-halves is that they will make mistakes. He needs to earn his manager’s trust, whether that be at club level or for the international team, and the only way you can do that is by limiting his mistakes.
“I think John can take a lot of positives from Callum Paterson’s call-up. He will look at Callum and think, ‘If he can go in and play, there’s no reason why I can’t’.
“But just now the right thing to do is to go with the players who are there.
“They are the guys with experience. Hopefully if John keeps progressing then he will get in the squad, then it is down to him.
“I know people are worried by the lack of defenders coming through but it goes in cycles. At one stage we lacked a lot of strikers, another time it was midfielders. Now it’s defenders.
“However, John is going to be a tremendous asset for the country but it’s also important we don’t pin all our hopes on him because that just puts pressure on his shoulders.”
While the Scots got off to a perfect start as they opened their World Cup qualifiers with a 5-1 triumph over Malta last week, neither Newcastle’s Hanley nor Martin of Norwich looked entirely convincing during a nervous first half.
Ring rustiness may have been to blame, with both men currently on the fringes of their club line-ups.
But McManus reckons they will see enough action to ensure they are good to go when called upon by Strachan.
“Gordon and Mark McGhee are very loyal people,” added McManus.
“Of course you want people who are playing every week but Russell Martin, Grant Hanley and Gordon Greer are experienced enough to look after themselves and I think they are definitely still the best ones available. We can rely on them.
“Can we get another two years out of them? That is up to the manager. I don’t know if they are playing as regularly as they’d all like but they are at very good clubs.
“They play a lot of football in the Championship – Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday – so they will get a lot of game time and I don’t think there’s anything to panic about at this stage.”
McManus netted one of just two goals he managed for his country against Lithuania in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
His late strike gave Alex McLeish’s team the boost they needed against their stuffy opponents as they claimed a 3-1 win.
And he admits Strachan’s men may have to remain just as patient when the Eastern Europeans return to Hampden on October 8.
“You’d always love to be three or 4-0 up at half-time but international football is difficult,” he said. “It’s tough to break teams down.
“Teams are always dangerous on the counter attack because they usually have pace in the wider areas.
“So if it takes to the 80th or 90th minute to get the goal, then that’s what you have to do. The most important thing is to win the game.”
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