The pent-up angst of yet another long road to recovery weighs heavy on John Souttar, Michael Beale can see it in his eyes.

Luckless would be a modest assessment of the Scotland international’s struggles with injury down the years, and it felt sadly predictable that just a few months after joining Rangers from Hearts, he disappeared from view once more. This time, it was recurrence of an old problem that sent Souttar back to the operating table, and then to the sidelines once more.

Having already defied two career-threatening ankle problems before his 23rd birthday, sustaining a major setback so soon after arriving at Ibrox felt especially cruel. Family tragedy struck in August, too; his brother Aaron passing away aged just 42. It is, therefore, impossible to imagine just how horribly difficult the latter months of 2022 were for the centre-back, but his manager revealed he’s been a “fantastic” influence around the club, one he’s desperate to begin exerting on the pitch, too, in the coming weeks.

“Like most players who are injured, they are disappointed,” said Beale, who hopes to have both Souttar and Tom Lawrence back ‘in January or February’. “They are living the dream and then when they can’t do it, they wear that around their head and I am sure their families see a change on them. Inside the building John has been fantastic, very supportive of the team and their team-mates. So has Filip Helander.

“They have been fantastic, but it is hard for them. They see their mates going on to train and they are stuck inside, and I can see in John’s eyes that he can’t wait to get out there and re-join the group.

“It is an interesting time when a new manager comes with new ideas, and you want to be able to train to showcase what you have got. He is one of the players that I had watched previously, so for him there is even more of a need to get out and show what he can do.”

A successful recovery programme has Souttar, now 26, on the brink of a long awaited comeback. But Beale revealed Rangers are being especially careful with his progression, so determined are they to facilitate a return to the form that convinced the club to move in the first place, and that which prompted Steve Clarke to integrate the defender into his Scotland setup regularly.

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Beale was certain joining Rangers would only solidify his international credentials, and he sincerely hopes Souttar gets a fair crack at regaining that momentum for both club and country in 2023.

“From what I believe the rehab has been fantastic and he looks strong,” the manager said. “If anything, we are trying to hold John back because he is pushing. He is well liked within the group which, for someone who has come in and who hasn’t been able to play week in, week out, that is a good sign of his personality and character.

“I thought he would come to Rangers and kick on to the senior national team, but injury has held him back. That is one for the future. If John can play consistently, he will be a good player for Rangers and then onwards and upwards for the national team.

“He has had a really rough few seasons with injury. He has played at a high level but hasn’t had a strong and consistent run. His rehab coming back has been strong and he has got really solid foundations now.”

Rangers have not had their troubles to seek at centre-back this season, and Beale was forced to deploy midfielders John Lundstram and James Sands at the heart of defence in his first match in charge. His options are steadily improving, however, with both Connor Goldson and Ben Davies slotting back in for recent matches.

For Souttar, it does mean he will face stiff competition in establishing himself as a regular starter - but Beale is confident he’ll be a perfect fit.

“He is a good player,” Beale said. “He can step into midfield with the ball and is a player whom I had watched when I was here in my previous time, so I was delighted to inherit him. I would just like to work with him now.”

Souttar had been a long-term target for Rangers under Steven Gerrard, so it seems a pre-contract approach last January was always in the pipeline. It was a move his successor, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, was happy to proceed with, so that makes Beale the third consecutive Rangers boss holding a strong desire to work with the 26-year-old.

Having not kicked a ball since Beale arrived from Queens Park Rangers, the manager knows it’s only natural Souttar will be eager to prove a point. However, he stressed there’s simply no need for him to feel that way.

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“I spoke to him on the very first day I joined because he was a player we had watched under the previous management,” Beale said. “He was one who had been ear-marked as he was coming to the end of his contract. We liked the way he played football and, in our team, when we are dominant in possession, we felt we could showcase his talents even more in terms of bringing the ball into midfield and making passes so he is aware that I like him.

“I like players who are fit and hungry and available all the time - that is probably the message to all the players; don’t be injured too long!

“He doesn’t have a point to prove to me. I really rate him. He will obviously want to prove it to the fans and to his team-mates that he belongs here, and he can go on and have a successful career here.”