There was a sense that John Souttar agreed with the sentiment, if not the terminology. Perhaps he was wary of making headlines, perhaps he didn’t want to be seen to be presumptuous or getting ahead of himself. A couple of weeks on, both the question and the answer continue to resonate.

Souttar’s position was perhaps a wise one to take. He didn’t know it at the time, but the query came just 48 hours before a result that marked a downturn in Rangers’ Premiership fortunes. Philippe Clement’s side can still see the finishing line but the route to it is now more difficult to navigate after a defeat to Ross County and draw with Dundee shifted the balance of power at the top of the table.

A question about the significance of the weeks ahead, given that Euro 2024 is coming into view over the horizon, was sidestepped with an answer about his full focus being on Rangers. When asked whether he was in the most important two-month spell of his career, the answer shifted from "probably" to "maybe" in a sentence. It was followed by "That was your words not mine" as Souttar intimated that it will only be in the fullness of time that he will be able to determine what this season and this summer mean for him and his career.

Given everything that Souttar has had to endure and overcome as a player and a person, few would grudge him success for Rangers and Scotland. The fact that he is just five games away from a potential domestic treble and weeks from earning a place in Germany is a testament to Souttar’s quality and his character. At the second time of asking, he has established himself at Ibrox.

“Everyone knows last season for me was far from ideal and it wasn’t what I dreamed of when I signed here,” Souttar said when asked about this term on the back of a difficult debut campaign that saw him make just 16 appearances for club and country. “But this season, so far, I have made up probably for lost time in the games that I have played and the minutes I have had on the pitch. I think towards the end of the season I will look back in the summer and how we have finished the season and hopefully it is a great end. I will be doing everything I can personally and everyone in the changing room will be collectively to make sure it is one we can remember for the rest of our lives.”

The signing of Souttar in the summer of 2022 had plenty of pros and cons. On one hand, he knew the league and had shown he could play in it comfortably. He ticked the Scottish box for the UEFA regulations and fitted a profile – in terms of his age and attributes – that made him an appealing Bosman recruit for Giovanni van Bronckhorst. A Premiership fixture with Livingston was the only time Souttar would play under the Dutchman.

The months after that 2-1 victory encapsulated the risk and reward tightrope that Rangers walked. Speaking at the Annual General Meeting that December, Ross Wilson, the then sporting director, acknowledged that Rangers were going into the gamble with their ‘eyes wide open’ given Souttar’s ‘difficult’ injury track record. Wilson may not have got much right in the latter stages of his tenure but his belief that Rangers could ‘deal with that’ in terms of Souttar’s fitness has belatedly been proven correct.

READ MORE: Filip Helander exclusive: Old Firm winner, unique injury struggles, Tavernier and 55

In a season where Rangers have been almost cursed by a plethora of injury problems, Souttar has emerged unscathed and shown no ill effects of his previous absences. Only four players – Jack Butland, James Tavernier, Connor Goldson and John Lundstram – have had more Premiership game time than Souttar as he closes in on 2,500 match minutes this term. There have been times where he has not been picked due to form, but his fitness has stood up to the rigours of the treble chase.

Only four players have played more league minutes for Rangers than Souttar this year

Souttar has lost too much game time to injury and misfortune. At 27, he is approaching his peak years. He is doing so in the best shape of his Rangers career and having put that difficult first term behind him.

It was one that he spent in the company of Filip Helander. While the Swede was sidelined with the foot injury that ultimately ended his Ibrox career, Souttar spent several months recovering from a stress fracture in his ankle. He later admitted that he shouldn’t have taken to the field against Livingston and that he should have been more upfront with his manager and the medical staff and said that he wasn’t fit to play. That decision cost him. Like Helander, who is now with Danish outfit Odense, Souttar has put those troubled times behind him.

“Of course, I am happy for him and to see him back playing,” Helander tells the Rangers Review. “He has, just like me, had a lot of injuries and he had them when he first came into the club. He was in then out and back in again and it was obviously frustrating. You could always see that he is a good player and would be a good player for Rangers, especially when he was able to stay fit, as he has been more now. When you play more games, you get into a game rhythm. I am happy that he has had the chance to prove that he is a good player. He is in the Scotland squad and doing well and I am happy for him.”

The days turn into weeks and the weeks into months during a rehabilitation programme. The physical wounds can heal but the mental hardship can take an unseen toll. Souttar has already proven his fortitude in that regard after overcoming three separate Achilles ruptures during his time at Hearts and questions over his determination and diligence should be met with a short shrift.

So many of Souttar’s teammates this term have found themselves in that unfortunate and unforgiving situation. Each one of the appearances that Souttar has made represents a small step in the right direction and acts as proof of his recovery as well as validation of his recruitment.

“We spent a lot of time together in the gym,” Helander said. “When you are injured, you try to help each other when you are going through a tough time for both. You can always find support in each other, you can talk about problems that you have with your injury or how to tackle difficult situations. You try and do that with all the players that are injured. Kemar Roofe had a lot of injuries at the time that I was there and we tried to help each other. Ianis Hagi was going through his injury as well. We were a group who were out for a long time.

“You try and do your bit. I think people tackle these situations differently and that is when you also need the support from family and friends and other teammates and people around the club. We had lots of help from the medical staff, trying to keep us as happy as they could during that time. People go through these situations differently.”

Souttar has sadly had more profound difficulties to cope with in recent years. The tragic death of his brother, Aaron, from Motor Neurone Disease in August 2022 put all of his injury troubles, and those of sibling centre-half Harry, into perspective. Souttar spoke movingly last year about how Aaron, who was just 42 years old, was an inspiration for him and Harry. He recalled the pride that Aaron had when he joined him in the Blue Room after putting pen-to-paper at Ibrox and he now has a tattoo on his arm to remind him of his hero.

Souttar made that switch after leaving Hearts at the end of his contract. The Scottish Cup final defeat to Rangers was his last appearance in maroon and there was some consternation in Gorgie that Souttar had elected to sign an agreement several months earlier. He left on good terms with the staff and one of them, Lee McCulloch, now watches him at Ibrox with pride.

“John was one of the main reasons that we got into the Europa Conference League,” McCulloch, who spent three years at Hearts as assistant to Robbie Neilson, tells the Rangers Review. “He is a complete winner at training, he drives the standards at training and on a match day. He would dig people out, but in the right manner, and he was a help to the coaching staff in that way.

"He was a leader. He set the standard and he would help and nurture the younger players within the squad. He had that mentality that we were looking for and that mentality that you need at a club like Rangers. He is such a genuine, good, humble guy. I really like him as a person and a player.”

In the early days of his career, Souttar seemed destined to reach the level he is operating at today as he showcased his technical ability, first as a holding midfielder and then as a centre-half. He was a contemporary of Andy Robertson and Ryan Gauld at Dundee United and made his debut aged just 16, becoming the youngest player to represent the club. More than a decade on, he could now become a treble-winner and a member of Steve Clarke’s squad for the Euros.

READ MORE: Building bonds, controlled emotion and dodgy dancing - Inside Clement's Brugge reign

He is not a defender built in the traditional Scottish mould. He is more comfortable with the ball at his feet than he is attacking it in the air and that weakness has been exposed on occasion as Clement has put his faith in him during the second half of the campaign. Most of his Rangers career has been spent operating on the left side of a pairing and that situation has continued despite Clement’s decision to bench Goldson for the matches with Hearts and St Mirren.

“On the pitch, he was just so calm and composed,” McCulloch says. “He was deceivingly quick, he would defend the box well, defend straight balls well. He has got all the attributes that you need to be at a club like Rangers. I think he has been brilliant since he has had a run in the team and it has been great to see him play regularly this season. He can play left centre-half or on the right, he can play in a three. He is so good in possession, he has a tremendous passing range, an elite-level passing range. He has scored one or two important goals as well. For me, he can still get even better.”

That ability to play the ball out from the back or to progress with it through the thirds has always been a strength of Souttar’s. He is the only member of Clement’s squad with a pass completion above 90 per cent this season and he brings a skillset that Goldson and Leon Balogun do not possess. Going forward, Souttar should have a place in Clement’s plans.

That is the hope for the man who gave him his international debut. It was a time of evolution for Scotland as Alex McLeish returned to Hampden and it is fair to say there were teething problems for many. Souttar’s bow came in a 4-0 defeat to Belgium and he was sent off in a Nations League loss to Israel. Once again, his decision to play on had to be questioned and he acknowledged that he should have asked to come off at half-time after sustaining a hip injury that would sideline him for three months. The Souttar of today is older and wiser than the one who played that night in Haifa and watched on as Israel came from behind to win.

McLeish has witnessed Souttar develop the speed and variety of his passing. Souttar didn’t catch the eye as a commanding presence in the air but the treble-winning Ibrox boss believes he has attributes that Clement will look for.

“What I liked about John in my initial spying missions and watching him on videos, I thought that he was a really assertive passer,” McLeish tells the Rangers Review. “I liked that straight away. One thing that Fergie always said to the Aberdeen players was that he wanted quick, high-tempo football. You had to be assertive, you had to pass it as if you meant it. John had that. At that time, he was still young and he didn’t have all the answers. Even today, he will make mistakes and he will come up against challenging opponents throughout the rest of his career. Unfortunately, he got sent off in the Israel game. It was the experimental start of a new era and John was involved in that. We liked the cut of his jib as a young guy.”

It took almost three years for Souttar to earn his next cap. The header that opened the scoring in a World Cup qualifier against Denmark was followed by a visceral roar and slide towards the corner flag as the emotion of the trials and tribulations were released and the Tartan Army took Souttar to their hearts.

READ MORE: Dave King exclusive: Keeping hold of Clement, injuries, investment need and Tavernier

Souttar will not be one of the first names on the team sheet for the opening match of the Championships against Germany. A seat on the plane would be a merited reward for his efforts, though. The dream scenario for club and country could yet play out for Souttar.

“He was one of the players that everyone was talking about last season,” McLeish says. “It was a case of ‘when is John Souttar going to come back?’ He was out of the game for a while and people were asking if he could make an impact here or even if he would have to call it a day because of these recurring injuries. But has come through it all, he has rehabbed well, and it is great to see. It is thanks to all of the medical people that he has seen that he has come through that and he is now building momentum with every game that he plays.

“He was a younger player coming into our dressing room. He was quite quiet, but he respected everybody and was respected by everybody. On the field, he has got a voice. I liked that about him. He is one of those ones who doesn’t shout all the time, but he does it when it is needed.

“It looks like the style of Clement should suit him. He has played regularly this season and the more he plays at the highest level the better he will get, for Rangers and for Scotland. He can only improve.”