JOHN SOUTTAR knows Rangers cannot afford to take their eye off the matches that must be won to think about a significant summer that will shape the future under boss Michael Beale.

But the defender is already looking forward to a fresh start next term as he attempts to put a nightmare debut campaign behind him at Ibrox and prove his worth to his demanding manager and an expectant support.

Souttar has endured another difficult term on and off the park in recent months. As he faced up to a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury, he had to come to terms with the tragic loss of his brother, Aaron.

The Herald: John Souttar

The remarkable strength of character that Souttar has shown so often in his career came to the fore once again. Now he just wants the chance to let his football do the talking as he counts down to a summer that will offer him the chance to regroup and kick-on at Ibrox.

“Yeah of course," Souttar said when asked if a proper pre-season would allow supporters to see the best of him next term. "From now until the end of the season I want to play as much football as I can.

"But for me to get a full pre-season and get right up and running it will be massive. There are a lot of games to be played until pre-season so if I can get involved in as many of them as possible that will be brilliant.

“To be honest I’ve not thought too much about [time off]. I’m sure there will be a plan here for you to do certain things, whatever it is to get fully fit.

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"It’s a big pre-season for me, a big summer for me, so I’ll be doing everything I can to be in the best shape possible.

“When a new manager comes in you want to be fit to almost prove to him what you can do. There were a few injuries at the time and it’s not ideal him coming in and you’re injured.

"To be fair he’s always came out and backed me. He’s always been sound with me.”

Souttar was signed to be an integral part of Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side last summer but he only featured once for the Dutchman after being forced off in the win away to Livingston on the opening day of the campaign.

He has deputised for the injured Connor Goldson against Celtic and St Mirren in the last fortnight and will once again partner Ben Davies as Beale's side make the trip to Pittodrie this weekend.

Souttar has all the attributes to slot into the Rangers defence on a regular basis. Indeed, he seems to be the kind of player that should suit the Beale blueprint.

“That’s what I’ve been saying," Souttar said. "I just need to prove to myself and everyone else that you can play for Rangers and deserve to be here.

"That’s up to me to show that in however many games between now and the end of the season.

“I believe I can be a Rangers player. And I believe I’ll show that in whatever games I play in between now and the end of the season.

"When you sign for Rangers there are always going to be times when it’s tough. And it’s not been the ideal start for me.

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"There’s no doubt about that. But it makes you stronger in the long run and hopefully in time I’ll be looking back and thinking that.

"The start to my Rangers career wasn’t ideal but you’re certainly going to be stronger for whatever happens. You need to be strong to play for one of the Old Firm, it’s not an easy place to play.”

The Premiership title may not be outwith their reach this term but Rangers still have business to take care of in the league as Beale determines futures and puts plans in place for next season.

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The Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic next weekend naturally stands out on the schedule. Given Souttar's trials and tribulations this term, he is just savouring every outing at present.

“Definitely," Souttar said when it was raised that there is still plenty to play for this season. "And for me having missed so much football I’m just desperate to play games.

The Herald: John Souttar

"Every game I play is massive for me, just to get back on the pitch feeling good. Getting back involved on a Saturday – you miss it when you’re injured, that competitiveness and being desperate to be involved.

“I’m just taking every game as it comes, every session. I’m working as hard as I can every day. The boys want to win every game possible.”