Jetting out to Luxembourg on Monday morning, Daniel Baur was entitled to a smile of satisfaction. His Hearts debut the previous day marked a breakthrough moment at the end of a long and tortuous road for the 18-year-old.
He missed all of last season with a cruciate ligament injury and fought tenaciously to recover. The fight for fitness won, manager Craig Levein handed him a senior bow against Kilmarnock at BT Murrayfield. Even playing out of position at left-back couldn’t douse his excitement.
Baur is a centre-back for whom the world “beanpole” may actually have been coined. His towering frame stands 6ft 5ins tall and he has played in the Hearts youth academy since the age of nine.
He flew to Luxembourg with the Scotland Under-19 squad earlier this week ahead of three vital European Championship qualifiers. No-one could begrudge him a sense of achievement as he gazed through the window.
“Last season I had a really bad injury, I did my cruciate ligament and was out of the whole season. That was really hard to take. I worked really hard to come back from that,” explained Baur in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“It was difficult at times. Craig [Levein] and Karen [Gibson, Hearts physio] were really good. A lot of other boys were injured at the same time as me, like Callum Paterson. He had a similar injury to mine so he was a great help. Sam Nicholson and Callumn Morrison were injured at the time as well, so I wasn’t really on my own.
“Sometimes I did really feel: ‘This is tough.’ For the whole season, I was coming in and basically doing the same rehab every day. I couldn’t do any running for about four months. After that, it was just about putting in the hard work to get myself back as fit and strong as possible.
“It’s paid off now and I can’t thank everyone enough for helping me throughout last season. The gaffer has put his trust in me and given me my debut so I have to thank him for that.
“It’s something for my family as well. My mum and dad put so much time in coming to watch me every week so it’s great for them. It’s also great for me just to get out there and play for the team I’ve been with since I was a wee boy. I’m a fan as well so it’s even better.”
Every silver lining has a cloud, though. “A few of my mates were there on Sunday so they’ll probably be slagging me off,” he laughed.
Hearts’ 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock was their third successive loss ahead of the return to Tynecastle Park, but Baur headed off on international duty with a justified feeling of contentment.
He didn’t allow being shoehorned in at left-back to unsettle him and seemed to grow in stature as the match wore on. “I didn’t really know I was starting,” he revealed. “I had an idea when we were working on team shape through the week. Jon Daly [Hearts’ first-team coach] came and told me before the game. He said: ‘Do you know you’re starting?’ I got my head around it then and started to get a feel for it.
“I was a bit nervous in the first half but in the second half I thought we came out and did really well. We created a lot of chances and were just unlucky not to score. Then Kilmarnock went up the other end of the park and finished the game off late on. It was unfortunate but I really enjoyed playing in the first team.
“It’s a lot different from the under-20s but I felt I dealt with it quite well. Boys like Christophe [Berra], Don [Cowie], Michael [Smith], Jon [McLaughlin] the goalie, they all helped me throughout the game by speaking to me. I always felt I was never in a lot of trouble.”
He did at least have some previous knowledge of the left-back role before Levein made him Hearts’ latest teenage debutant - following 16-year-old Harry Cochrane’s introduction earlier this season.
“I’ve played left-back when I’ve had to for Hearts Under-20s and for Scotland Under-19s,” said Baur. “I just tried to play my game, play simple passes and get forward when I could. Because I am a centre-back, I tend to stay more defensive and try to cover the centre-backs when necessary. I just tried to keep it simple and do what I’m good at.
“There were a few times in the first half on Sunday when I gave the ball away, but that happens. There were a few jeers but, in the second half, when I was making passes, they were getting a good reaction.
“That makes you feel quite confident. You want the ball more and you go forward. I thought me and Lewis [Moore] worked well together on the left side, especially with Don in the middle.”
Now it’s about following up the breakthrough and establishing himself in the first-team squad when he returns to Edinburgh. “I’ll just keep working hard every day in training and do what I can to impress the gaffer,” said Baur.
“The left-back position has been hard over the last few years. Hopefully, if I can keep putting in performances, then he can trust me. I’ll keep working hard and playing for the Under-20s to show I’m good enough.
“It’s great for us young players at Hearts to go in every day and be around the first-team boys, like Christophe and Don and the rest. They’re so helpful and they help you when we’re doing drills on the training pitch as well. You just learn from that environment all the time.
“You have to take on board what they’re saying and put it into games. We were unfortunate on Sunday but if we keep pushing like we did in the second half, then we should be winning more matches.”
The next milestone is a Tynecastle debut, with Hearts scheduled to return to their spiritual home to face Partick Thistle a week on Sunday. “I would have loved to make my debut at Tynecastle. Murrayfield is a great stadium but hopefully, when I come back from international duty, I can get another game and see what it’s like to play in front of the fans at Tynecastle.”
First, it’s international business. Scotland Under-19s are in Luxembourg to face the home nation, Armenia and Czech Republic over the next seven days. Catching a breath might be difficult. “It’s busy but this is what I want. The first game is tonight against Luxembourg so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve taken time to recover from Sunday so hopefully I’m ready.”
Having been unable to even break into a trot not that long ago because of injury, Daniel Baur can be content that his senior football career is now off and running.