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Socceroos’ star Harry Souttar faces uncertain top-tier future with Leicester

Harry Souttar, a last-gasp signing for lowly Leicester City in January, will be battling it out in the final emotionally-draining games to avoid a swift return to the Championship.

The towering Scottish-born defender became Australia’s richest-ever footballer when he signed a five-and-a-half-year deal with the Foxes on transfer deadline day.

Following some stellar displays for Australia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar, there was a clamour from top-tier clubs to snap up the no-nonsense 24-year-old from Stoke City.

Brendan Rodgers, then Leicester’s head coach, sold Souttar the dream. Now the 6’ 6” ace’s future of competing in the Premier League lies in the balance, with the Foxes currently on a white-knuckle relegation rollercoaster ride.

Former Aston Villa head coach Dean Smith, who has brought in defensive coach John Terry to shore up the side from leaking goals, has replaced Rodgers with a remit to maintain their status.

Although Smith is only an interim solution, handed just eight games to turn things around, Souttar has most probably got — like most of his team-mates — a relegation clause in his contract.

The team escaped an ignominious drop to the Championship the season before they were crowned Premier League champions in 2016, so a flirt with relegation is nothing new for the Midlands club.

Yet this time the chase for top-tier survival is extremely tight. There are inevitable twists and turns ahead in the season’s finale with Everton, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and West Ham United also in the mix to avoid the drop.

The impact of failure this campaign would have a massive impact on Leicester, who installed state-of-the art £100million facilities in 2020 as part of their long-term top-flight ambitions.

Regardless of which division they are competing in next season, it seems that a squad overhaul is required during the summer for whoever is at the helm as head coach.

Veteran striker Jamie Vardy, often overlooked by Rodgers this term, looks revitalised under Smith and surely will be a popular choice with fans who bet on fantasy football. The former England hot-shot and his invaluable goals seem to hold the key to the Foxes’ survival hopes.

While at the other end of the pitch it’s been Souttar that’s been their shining star in central defence. He’s shown exceptional leadership skills and stepped up superbly from competing in the Championship since his £15m transfer.

There’s always a risk with bringing in players who don’t possess top flight experience, but the Aberdeen-born centre back has become an instant hit at Leicester. He initially started every league game after joining, but then picked up an ankle knock when on international duty in March.

Souttar pledged his allegiance to Australia in 2019, qualifying as his mother Heather was born in Port Hedland, Western Australia. He bagged a brace on his debut in the 5-0 thumping of Nepal.

He’s since become an integral part of the Socceroos, and helped steer them into the last 16 at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006.

Souttar’s significant threat in the air, especially at set pieces, will have generated interest from other Premier League clubs who will be monitoring Leicester’s sticky situation.

Should relegation become a reality, which would immediately wipe out £100m in television revenue, then the Foxes would be aiming for an immediate return to the top flight.

Yet they would be forced to reshape their squad. Seven players will soon be out of contract — Daniel Amartey, Ryan Bertrand, Jonny Evans, Nampalys Mendy, Ayoze Perez, Caglar Soyuncu, Tete and Youri Tielemans — with a further eight — Kelechi Iheanacho, James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, Dennis Praet, Alex Smithies, Luke Thomas and Jannik Vestergaard — shortly ending the final year of their contracts.

Whizzy winger Harvey Barnes, attacking midfielder Maddison and Souttar appear to be Leicester’s most bankable assets should the unthinkable happen and the club tumbles into the Championship.

The Foxes are not quite staring relegation firmly in the face, but their final day fixture could prove to be their escape route from the drop. Both Leicester’s and Souttar’s top flight status could be determined by their result on 28 May, when they host West Ham at the King Power Stadium.

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