Big interview: Hearts' Peter Haring positive about playing again after 'mental torture' and says retirement was not on his mind
He last kicked a football in anger on May 25, 2019. It has been an arduous and tortuous 14 months for Peter Haring, but finally he is running without pain near his home in a quiet corner of Austria.
The Hearts midfielder underwent his latest hernia surgery six weeks ago and is on course to participate in some pre-season training next month. He would prefer to whisper rather than shout about that, for obvious reasons.
Thousands of supporters, a large squad of players, three different managers and dozens of club staff have been patiently waiting since last year’s Scottish Cup final to see Haring pull a maroon shirt over his manbun again.
No-one has suffered more torment than the player, who admits he pushed himself too far too early in previous comeback attempts. At one point he was just days away from returning to the team under Craig Levein, only for pelvic pain to resurface and suppress the excitement yet again.
Levein, Daniel Stendel and now Robbie Neilson have all recognised Haring’s influence when fit, but the elongated absence has taught the 27-year-old to remain cautious. He has endured double hernia surgery, an adductor operation and then more hernia work in the last 18 months in his fight for fitness.
Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he explains why he is more positive after the latest operation in Manchester six weeks ago.
“So far I am feeling the benefit of it. I am working with a physio here in Austria who I have known for a long time and I trust him. I see him three or four times a week,” says Haring.
"I can already do more challenging exercises in the gym and I started running about a week ago. I am definitely improving and I’m feeling really positive.
“It wasn’t the kind of surgery where everything is okay again right away. I still need some time to get myself fit enough to play football again. When I’m running at the moment, I’m pain-free. That is really positive.
“Before I had this surgery it didn’t matter if I totally rested or if I exercised. Nothing changed. When we agreed to do the surgery, it was just a no-brainer. I had to try it. So far, I think it was the right decision. I am definitely feeling in a better place.”
Not so long ago, he was in a very dark one. Being injured and unable to play or even train is demoralising for any footballer. Haring had the added complexities of being in a foreign country with no idea when he might feel fit again whilst his club slid to the bottom of the league table.
It was the perfect storm. He laughs. “You can imagine. Actually, I don’t know if you can, but the last season has been mental torture. The team was not doing well enough and my situation was not really improving.”
So close yet so far
“At the start of last season when I came back from Austria and was doing my rehab, I thought: ‘That’s me. I’m back.’ I started training with the team, Craig Levein was the gaffer and he wanted to play me again.
“In the week before I was due to play, it got worse again. I just didn’t feel well enough to play and that’s what I told the manager. I said: ‘I don’t want to play, I think it’s too early, I’m getting sore again.’
“I just thought I needed more time but the situation started going in the wrong direction again. I did exercises and it got worse, I rested and it improved, then I would start doing things and it got worse again. There was no light at the end of the tunnel for me and I just did not know what to do.
“I saw a number of specialists and rehab guys. In January this year, I was in a place where I thought: ‘I can’t do this any longer.’ There was nothing I could do to get better again. That’s when we decided to see a surgeon again.”
Going under the knife and talk of retirement
“I should have had this operation in April but it was cancelled because of coronavirus, so I had to wait two months. I was in Edinburgh trying to run and work out but there was just no point. I was just getting sore and I had no idea when I would get the operation.
“When I finally got it done, I was just really happy. I’m looking forward to being fit again and I think I’m heading in the right direction. I will still need some time to get 100 per cent fit and sharp enough to play, but I’m actually looking forward to just training again.”
Talk of enforced retirement was always premature. Haring never thought his career was over. “You have hard days. When you wake up in the morning and you are really sore, you think: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ I never really thought that was my career done. I was always positive I would be back.
“I have definitely learned a lot about myself in the last year. What I did wrong was always trying to get back quicker than I should have. When someone says you need eight weeks, you shouldn’t tell yourself: ‘I want to be back in six.’ That’s what I always did and it didn’t help.
“When I went into training every morning, I always had a timescale in my head for when I wanted to be back. Now I am back in Austria and the team is at home, so the situation makes it easier for me. I just see how it feels day to day. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to be back in a certain amount of time.
“I’ve spoken to the new gaffer a few times and he said he had some experience with injuries and operations. I think he understands and doesn’t put any pressure on me. He said there is enough time until we play our first game and not to rush myself back too quick.”
‘I just didn’t want to lie to anyone’
The Hearts support have been eager for Haring’s return since last summer, such was the impact he made during his first year in Edinburgh. His aggressive but technical approach gave the midfield a key dynamic as the Austrian influenced others around him.
“It means something to me when you’ve been missing for so long and people still ask about you because they want you back playing,” he says.
“It was hard to talk to supporters in the last year because I did not know what was happening. If you don’t have an answer for anyone, it’s hard. It made me feel that I did not want to be around all the time because it’s a little bit frustrating. I just didn’t want to lie to anyone.
“When I got to the stage where I just had no idea, I just told them. That frustrated me more but the club have supported me through the whole injury and I’m very grateful for that.”
He speaks of “light at the end of the tunnel” because, finally, that glimmer is there. Even Hearts’ relegation to the Championship does not quell the positivity. Pre-season training is due to start in two weeks. “I am not thinking too far ahead. I just want to get back playing football,” says Haring.
Making his pitch
“If it’s in front of supporters, great, but it probably won’t be. It won’t make a huge difference for me because I just want to be out there and play football again.
“Obviously I want to play in the Premiership but I can’t change it. I think the whole situation could have been handled better so, if we are in the Championship next season, we have to make sure we get back to the Premiership as quick as possible. That is where Hearts belong.
“Just now, it looks like I will definitely be on the pitch for pre-season. I probably won’t be with the team at the start but definitely working on the pitch. I’m hopeful I will be training with the team soon.”
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