THE Champions League last season was a difficult experience for John Souttar for entirely different reasons to his Rangers team mates.

Souttar had long dreamed of being involved in Europe’s elite club competition, of standing listening to Zadoc the Priest before kick-off, of facing the best clubs and most famous footballers in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

When he moved to Ibrox last summer, the centre half hoped that his chance to do all of the above would, even though the Glasgow outfit had to negotiate the qualifying rounds to reach the group stages, not be too far away.

Unfortunately for the former Dundee United and Hearts defender, he suffered a serious ankle injury that ended up requiring surgery.

He had mixed emotions as he watched Rangers beat PSV Eindhoven 1-0 in the second leg of the play-off in the Netherlands a few weeks later from his front room.

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“I grew up taking in lots of the games on Sky on a Tuesday and Wednesday night,” he said. “It was something I was in awe of and it seemed so far away.

“So probably the toughest thing about last season for me was watching the Champions League games. Because that was what I’ve thought about since I was a boy, playing at that level.

“I’d had my op around the time of the PSV games last year. So I was a long way away from being involved with the lads.

“It was a big night for the club and I was delighted for the group and for the club. To put out a really good PSV team and get the Champions League games back to Rangers for the first time in so many years was unbelievable.”

His disappointment at not being part of things, though, has only fuelled Souttar’s desire to get there this season.

He is both surprised and pleased that he has the opportunity to face Dutch giants PSV, who Rangers will meet in the first leg of the play-off in Govan on Tuesday night, at the same stage of the competition. 

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“To come so close and then have that taken away has made me more determined to get there this year,” he said. “Hopefully we can get there.”

Souttar knows that all of his Rangers team mates are also eager, despite the defeats they suffered in all six of their Group A encounters with Ajax, Liverpool and Napoli, to have another crack at the Champions League this season and give a far better account of themselves.

“I think everyone, no matter where you are, wants to play there,” he said. “It’s the top level in football.

“I don’t think you can look too much at last season. There were a lot of circumstances as to why we struggled so much. Everyone is striving to get there again, I feel that’s where we belong.

“I went to all the home games in the groups, but I didn’t go away as I was getting treatment. I’d like to think the stage could suit my game. It’s why you work hard every single day, to try and perform at that level.”

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It has taken Scotland internationalist Souttar, a free transfer from Hearts, some time to convince Rangers supporters of his worth.

Being sidelined for the first seven months of his debut campaign did nothing to help his cause. But he has certainly impressed with his displays in the past few weeks. 

The defender can certainly understand the process that summer signings Jack Butland, Jose Cifuentes, Danilo, Cyriel Dessers, Kieran Dowell, Sam Lammers, Abdullah Sima and Dujon Sterling are going through just now. He is confident they, too, can come good.

“The new boys are all good players,” he said. “When you are at a club like Rangers, you get judged from minute dot. Your first session, your first game. Everyone is judging you in the limelight.

“But that’s why you come to a big club - to be under that pressure. And I am sure the boys coming in have realised that and, if they didn’t, they realise it now.

“It works both ways, though. You’ve got that pressure, but when it’s going well it’s incredible. So I’m sure they will all realise that.

“It’s going to be an amazing occasion for the club on Tuesday. To be close to the Champions League again is great. Ibrox will be rocking and we need to use that to our advantage.”

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Souttar was flanked by a few familiar faces when he played in the second leg of the third qualifying round against Servette in the Stade de Geneve earlier this week; James Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Borna Barisic completed the Rangers defence.

He felt that having that trio alongside him enabled him to perform to his best.

“That’s good for me,” he said. “These boys have got a lot of experience, particularly from the Europa League run they had a couple of seasons ago. I’ve enjoyed playing with them in Europe so far and the more games we play alongside each other the more comfortable we are going to be.”

Until he played in the first leg of the Servette double header, Souttar had only featured in two European games. He took part in both Europa League qualifiers against Infonet Tallinn of Estonia with Hearts at the start of the 2016/17 season.

He is, though, positive that he can help Rangers to overcome PSV, who beat Sturm Graz of Austria both home and away in the third qualifying round, in the coming fortnight and book a place in the Champions League group stages once again.

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“The Servette games were my first taste of Champions League games,” he said. “It was a long wait. I enjoyed it, it was good. Especially in the first leg, we had the chance to put the tie to bed but didn’t. The main thing was that we got through.”

“I thought Servette were decent, as every team is by the time you get to this stage. It was a relief to win in the end, but we’re now looking forward to Tuesday.

“We’ve not spoken too much about the current PSV team yet, but I’m sure we will go into that. There is no doubt they are a good side.

“But we are a good side and we know that at Ibrox, especially on European nights, anything can happen. You’ve got to go into the tie believing that we can do the same thing again.”