JOHN SOUTTAR, Dundee United's talented teenage central defender, admits he was flattered by Paolo di Canio's attempts to take him to Sunderland but isn't about to let all the speculation go to his head.
The 16-year-old - subject of a rebuffed £400,000 bid at the weekend - showed further glimpses of his clear potential as Scotland's under-19 team drew 1-1 with their Icelandic counterparts at Forthbank Stadium on Tuesday night.
While following the James McCarthy route to Premier League superstardom is a new benchmark for Scottish youngsters, for now Souttar is hoping to get the first-team football he needs at Tannadice to help him learn his trade. "A few of the boys mentioned it but you try not to think about it," Souttar said. "It's flattering from clubs like that which you see on Match of the Day. It was nice to hear but you always put it to the back of your mind. I am focused on my club football, doing the best I can for United because all that is outwith my control."
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As heartening as United's decision to knock back the offer was, timing your run to the riches on offer south of the border can't be easy these days for a young player. "You have seen people going down south and some of them just fading away," said Souttar. "Then you see others who have done exceptionally well, like James McCarthy getting a move to Everton for £14m. You need to look at both sides. You have to look at him and try and do as well as he has done. Everyone wants to play down in England, play at the highest level possible."
Gavin Gunning, Souttar's club teammate who will find out today if his three-match ban for a challenge on Celtic's Virgil Van Dijk last weekend is to be overturned, insists the best place for United's youngsters is still Tannadice. "It was no surprise there was interest in them," he admitted. "John might not get too much game-time this season, with the more experienced guys in there, but there is no harm in him staying here for a while longer. What I really like is that they have exactly the attitude young players should have. There is no big-time talk from them."
There is also no shortage of other promising Tannadice youngsters coming through - all-purpose midfielder Darren Petrie and winger Aidan Connolly won't be far behind, while 19-year-old left back Andrew Robertson has already turned heads. But it was Gauld, who has been known to carry the Baby Messi tag for his physical similarities to the Argentine superstar, who was the star turn at Forthbank on Tuesday night. He struck a stunning free-kick to equalise on the night, and set up countless other chances. Souttar has seen enough of a player he has known since lining up together at Brechin Boys Club at the age of five to know that he would have been astonished by any other outcome.
"Ryan and I grew up together and I know he can do that week in, week out," said Souttar. "That free kick, he just does it all the time. As soon as he stepped up I knew he would score. He is way ahead of his years."
Ricky Sbragia will shuffle his pack for another, closed-door meeting with their Icelandic counterparts at the same venue today ahead of an arduous trip to Belarus next month to take on the hosts, Germany and Latvia, with the top two teams going through to the elite round. Souttar, for one, has no shortage of confidence. "We are not just there to make up the numbers, our first thought is qualifying from the group," he said. "I think we will go through."