Five turbulent months since Türkgücü Munich filed for insolvency tested the resilience of the 22-year-old former Hearts midfielder. Still reeling from the collapse of his German adventure less than a season after leaving Edinburgh, he signed a three-year contract with SK Austria Klagenfurt last week.
It’s easy to understand the elation when you examine his new club and their charming surroundings. Klagenfurt finished sixth in last season’s Austrian Bundesliga, one place outside the European places, and play at the spectacular 32,000-capacity Stadion Wörthersee.
Irving now lives two minutes’ drive from the stunning Wörthersee lake and can finally begin rebuilding his career amid picturesque scenery. The excitement of playing continental football is rekindled within a young man who must have felt cursed just a few weeks ago.
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“We stopped training with Türkgücü in March because they couldn’t play games any longer,” said Irving, speaking for the first time since the harrowing experience. “I moved out of my flat in Munich and went home to Edinburgh. I was with my family, my girlfriend and my friends.
“That's the only thing you need at that point. I trained alone for a while, then I went out to train with a couple of German teams [Karlsruher and Paderborn], and then Austria Klagenfurt.
“I decided to sign for Klagenfurt because they were so welcoming, I felt good in training and I liked the coach, Peter Pacult. It was a journey but I got here in the end.”
That journey involved finding out about his club’s financial struggles via kicker, the German football magazine, before a gut-wrenching meeting confirmed the entire squad’s worst nightmare.
“The German 3.liga was really good, I enjoyed the style of football. There was a different tactical side and I really liked the whole German football culture. Then, in January, we were at a winter training camp and there were rumours from kicker about financial problems at Türkgücü.
“We thought it might not be true but by the end of January it was. Everybody was devastated. By March, we couldn't continue playing. It was very tough. There was a meeting with the whole squad and the upper management of the club. That's how they broke it to us.”
Five months of German language tutoring helped Irving follow the dialogue. Nobody needed to translate the fact that this was the end. After bravely taking a chance by leaving Hearts for an unknown foreign side, he was now being released along with every one of his team-mates.
“It's difficult when you're alone in another country. Every thought runs through your head. 'How could this have happened?' I went back to the beginning when I joined Türkgücü. If you had listed all the worst-case scenarios that could have happened back then, I think this would have been too far-fetched even to make the list!
“Still, it was eight months in an amazing city. I picked up another language, lived alone, learned a lot and developed a lot as a person. It made me stronger. I thought I had a strong mentality leaving Scotland to live alone in Germany, but that whole episode tested me again and developed another side to me mentally.”
The suffering and anguish eventually gave way to euphoria when an offer to join Austria’s reputable top flight materialised. Irving knows fine well he has come up smelling of roses here.
“There was interest from Austria Klagenfurt when Türkgücü's financial stuff happened. They had contacted my agent in January,” he recalled. “I knew I could train with them towards the end of the season and I loved it.
“I didn't know much about the club or the league at first. The coach had a great career as a player and played for the Austrian national team. I had a great chat with him, really enjoyed his coaching and methods.
“The stadium is quality, I took in a couple of games and liked the culture of the fans. I’m delighted I’m here and I’m excited for this season because it will be a great challenge for me. The people at the club are great as well.”
He sounds mightily relieved. “Yeah, I think so. I just want to play football, work hard and live my dream every day.”
He is mindful that he wouldn’t be playing professional football in any country at any level but for Hearts. Some supporters criticised his decision to leave for Germany’s third tier last year. Irving’s resolve never wavered after deciding not to accept a contract extension with his boyhood club.
That doesn’t mean the choice was easy. “Leaving Hearts was a huge decision, as was leaving my family in Edinburgh. I had 13 amazing years at Hearts. It was my childhood dream to play for them, play at Tynecastle and score a goal in a Hearts shirt. It was everything I wanted as a kid. I still feel huge pride at that.
“I began to think about ending my contract and I'd always had the ambition to play abroad. I wanted to create a career in Europe. I'd always thought that maybe the European style of football would maybe suit me better than Scotland. I'm young and it was a good chance to try it.
“Hearts are still my club. I'm still a fan. The experiences and learning I had there was amazing, both as a footballer and a person. They gave me my chance to achieve this dream.”
He now intends to prolong it for as long as possible. “Football is a crazy game, as I well know,” he laughed. “For the time being I want to continue playing in Europe. I really enjoyed the last year but I don't feel I've experienced even close to the best of it yet. For the foreseeable future, I'd like to stay abroad.”