John Souttar’s first priority

is to return to fitness and help Hearts climb away from trouble at the Premiership basement.

Former Hearts assistant manager Austin MacPhee, however, insists it is quite possible for the Scotland international to make the jump to a leading English top-flight club soon.

MacPhee’s rationale is simple;

Souttar, who is expected to

return this month having been out since August with an ankle injury, boosts salient attributes which are important to flourishing south of the border, namely his passing.

“I think John has the capacity in the modern game to go from Hearts right to the top level,” said MacPhee, who has taken on a recruitment role in the wake of Daniel Stendel’s appointment to the dugout.

“There are a lot of managers who now look at the centre-back and their range of passing is the first thing. I’ve watched John’s clips, and I know he’s always developing, but I do genuinely believe that he has a world-class range of passing as a centre- back. I can show people evidence of that.

“If you go to the best teams, that’s your job, because you have the ball 70 per cent of the time.

“That’s something that, when John comes back into the team, a lot of clubs will be looking at.

“And it’s another reason I

really hope Scotland get to the

Euros – because I think John could really show at the top Euro-

pean level what a good player he is.”

MacPhee insists Souttar’s style would be compatible with the way Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola sets his team out.

“If you look at Guardiola, he’s made Fernandinho into a centre-

back at Man City, he made [Joshua] Kimmich, who’s 5ft 9,

into a centre-back at Bayern

Munich, he made [Javier] Mascherano into a centre-back at Barcelona. That’s because, in these best teams, they play their football on the halfway line, he said.

“Your responsibility as a

centre-back is to deal with five counter-attacks a game and play passes.

“That’s why I think that if John Souttar was to leave Hearts, he could certainly skip a couple of levels.”