The last few months may have been the toughest in the short professional career of Dundee United’s John Souttar.
But, according to Tangerines head of youth Stevie Campbell, the 17-year-old could be set for the biggest season of his life.
While former team-mate Andy Robertson is enjoying gametime in the English Premier League and Ryan Gauld settling in the Iberian sun, Souttar finds himself on the treatment table.
An ankle injury picked up in the pre-season trip to Holland has hampered his progress.
Campbell reckons it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the youngster, with Jackie McNamara recruiting two new central defenders Jarek Fojut and Callum Morris this summer.
“It’s been a tough time for ‘Soapy’ recently,” said Campbell.
“He’s had injury problems picked up in pre-season that he’s still recovering from.
“In the last few months, he’s also seen some of his best pals leave the club.
“Ryan Gauld, who he grew up playing football with, got his move to Sporting Lisbon and Andy Robertson, who he has known for years, is playing Premier League football.
“It’s been a big turnaround because the first one who was linked with a move was Soapy last season.
“So as well as having an injury he’s seen his mates leave.
“Having worked with him, I’m in no doubt his time will come there’s no fear about that. He’s a top-class player.”
Even though he remains a few weeks away from full fitness, Campbell believes Souttar is ready to step up his game a level.
And in fact he reckons the arrival of Pole Fojut and former Dunfermline man Morris could help with that.
“There’s competition for places in the squad,” he said.
“To get in the team Soapy is going to have a battle when he’s back fit.
“He would be the first to admit last season was a bit up and down.
“There were some good performances from him personally but there were some ropey ones, too.
“But let’s not forget he’s still a young player and this is all a learning curve for him.
“Last season he learned a lot and this time around he’s going to have to learn a lot more.”
Campbell added: “The players the manager has brought in are a totally different type to Soapy.
“But it could be from those two that he learns the most.
“The way Jarek and Callum defend is more aggressive and that’s exactly what Soapy needs to add to his game.
“If he can do that then he will be a top-class defender because he’s a brilliant footballing centre-half.
“We could see him step up a level this campaign once he’s back from injury.”
As well as competition from some more senior new faces, Souttar might well find himself looking over his shoulder soon enough.
Younger brother Harry, at just 15, is already following in his footsteps putting in tackle-perfect performances from the centre of defence at youth level.
“I think we could see a Souttar double before long,” joked Campbell.
“The pair of them might well be playing together in the development league during John’s recovery.
“Harry is just 15 but looks a brilliant defender he’s been staring for the youth side already this season.
“If John is not careful he may need to watch his back.”