HEARTS manager Robbie Neilson has admitted that only a 'crazy bid' for John Souttar would allow him to part with centre-back.

The Scotland internationalist has been in fine form in Gorgie this season and Rangers have been heavily linked with a move for the 25-year-old, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

With Hearts sitting third in the Premiership, however, Neilson is reluctant to weaken his squad during the January transfer window.

Appearing on the Scarves Around the Funnel podcast, the Tynecastle head coach recalled how Hearts had sold Osman Sow to Chinese club Henan Jianye when he entered the last six months of his deal for £1million in January 2016 during his first stint in the capital.

Neilson says it is a decision that had a significant psychological effect on his squad - and he is determined not to allow history to repeat itself.

"As we’ve said all along, our aim this season is to get European qualification," he explained. "It’s brilliant for the club, brilliant for the fanbase and very lucrative to get into that position.

"If we finish third and either Celtic, Rangers or ourselves win the cup then we get into the play-off round for the Europa League. You win that, it takes you to a different level.

"Even if you don’t win that, you go into the Europa Conference League which, again, is another level. So it’s really important we keep the group together.

"You’ll remember five years ago when we lost Osman Sow. That had a real negative impact, not just in terms of losing the player but on the dressing room, and on the club and fanbase, that we’d lost one of our best players.

"Although we ended up that season finishing third, I felt we struggled to get our feet over the line.

"We have to keep our best players in the team. If that means it’s at the end of the season they go, then it’s the end of the season when they go.

"Unless there’s a crazy bid coming in, but I don’t expect there will be."