Exclusive: Andy Irving explains his West Ham transfer, making history after Hearts, plus his Scotland hopes

Austria Klagenfurt's push for Europe is preparing the midfielder for England

The route from Klagenfurt am Wörthersee to Rush Green isn't exactly well-trodden. Few footballers have travelled directly from Austria's sixth-largest city to the English Premier League, so Andy Irving is a bit of a trailblazer. He is aiming to make history with his current club, Austria Klagenfurt, before a transfer worth seven figures takes him to East London this summer.

Swarms of people awaiting his arrival outside West Ham United's training ground are unlikely. He will check in largely under the radar from the Austrian Bundesliga. As a quiet unassuming type, that might well be his preference. It doesn't mean he will be content just to make up the numbers. At 23, Irving is a midfielder of notable ambition who is not scared to do things differently.

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He already has some experience of trailblazing after leaving Hearts in 2021 to join the German third-tier club Türkgücü Munich. Their financial collapse saw him move to Klagenfurt a year later. When West Ham appointed Tim Steidten technical director in summer 2023, he already had a strong eye on the Austrian market. He knew of Irving from his time in Munich and monitored him closely. The player was quickly transferred to West Ham and loaned back to Klagenfurt for this season.

Dates are now in place for him to report to Rush Green for pre-season training. He is preparing for yet more trailblazing as Steidten's link-up between England and Austria kicks into action. First, Irving is focused on helping his current team achieve history with their highest-ever domestic finish. Last season, he helped Klagenfurt to sixth place by contributing six goals and nine assists from 34 appearances. He has four goals and four assists from 22 games to date this term. The club are currently fifth and will qualify for European competition if they stay there.

Irving is now a fluent German speaker and does media interviews in his second language. Thankfully, he sticks to English for an exclusive chat with the Edinburgh News. "I've definitely developed a lot over the past two years here, in all aspects," he says. "The style here in Austria has allowed me to play as a more attacking midfielder, which has changed my game quite a bit. Since I’ve been here we’ve been pretty successful in reaching the top six both years, which is big for the club. Obviously, being one point off Europe last year was close and we would love to change that this time around.

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"It’s not all been rosy since I came abroad but I’ve loved every minute of being abroad with its ups and downs. I have grown massively as a person and as a footballer. The life experience away from the pitch has been amazing, in terms of where I’ve lived, the friends I’ve met and having learnt a new language. When you add in the football side of things, that only adds to the enjoyment I’ve had."

Two of his closest friends are Klagenfurt team-mates, the German forward Sinan Karweina and Austrian defender Nicolas Wimmer. "I spend a lot of my time with my team-mates here. There is a group of us that are alone here so we tend to do a lot of things together," explains Irving. "We’re often drinking coffee together, eating together and normally having some sort of debate! There is a mix of culture so it’s quite an interesting group to be a part of. They have become great friends and have made my time here very enjoyable.

"The nature here is class and I enjoy a swim in the lake and playing some padel tennis with the boys. My girlfriend doesn’t live here but, with her being a teacher, there are plenty opportunities for her to come out which is always great. My family have all been out to Klagenfurt as have my friends and they’ve all loved it - and Klagenfurt definitely enjoyed having them.

"I’ve been doing interviews in German for a fair bit now and I am comfortable speaking German. The Austrian dialect is much different to what I learned in Germany but I’ve picked it up. Everyone seems to understand me better in German than they do in my Scottish accent."

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Finishing with a flourish in Austria would set him up nicely for the biggest challenge of his career to date. Irving knows the task awaiting him in England is daunting, however he is far from overawed. Competing for a place in the West Ham midfield are the Brazilian internationalist Lucas Paquetá, England cap Jarrod Bowen and the Czech Republic captain Tomáš Souček.

The Scot is understandably elated at joining an established EPL side once the Klagenfurt loan agreement expires. He fully intends to seize the opportunity. "I heard about the possibility from my agents about 10 days before the window shut [last August]. It was a lot to take in having games to focus on too, but of course it’s something every kid dreams about. I was buzzing, as were my family," he says.

"Travelling to London was a bit chaotic. It was during the time when UK control towers were down so flying to Brussels and then driving with my agent to London wasn’t exactly the easiest - but it was definitely worth it, absolutely. I believe that I can go to West Ham and show my quality. It’s a challenge I’m very excited for. I understand the level that I’m going to and it’s up to me to show that I can play at that level."

It remains to be seen if David Moyes, a fellow Scotsman, renews his contract to remain West Ham manager for next season. Irving knows he must impress whoever is in charge in order to secure a place in the first-team squad. Another loan may be a possibility given United already have players farmed out to clubs in England, Denmark, France and Netherlands.

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Should he make the desired long-term impact in England, Irving would surely come into contention for a Scotland cap. He represented his country at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level and a long-term ambition is to make the final step into the senior side. Scotland's current left-sided central midfielders are 29-year-old John McGinn, 30-year-old Callum McGregor and 32-year-old Kenny McLean, so a succession plan is vital over the next few years.

Speaking German isn't sufficient to earn him a call-up for this summer's European Championship despite Scotland playing in Munich, Cologne and Stuttgart. The next generation of the national team will likely start breaking through during qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup and the 2028 European Championship. Irving's career trajectory suggests a player with the potential to force himself into the senior international arena.

"Yeah, it was always an honour to play for Scotland throughout the youth and I would love to represent Scotland at senior level. If I keep working hard to improve and perform well, then hopefully I can make that a reality."

The trailblazer from Portobello has had quite an adventure already, from Edinburgh to Munich and now Klagenfurt. As he prepares to move on to London, it is worth considering whether he is only just getting started.

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