Peter Haring: I've waited four years to play for Hearts in Europe - but Swiss are mates not rivals
Having waited four years to represent Hearts in Europe, Peter Haring’s normally reticent demeanour drops when this week’s Zurich tie is mentioned.
The Austrian midfielder, now 29, has never performed in UEFA competition despite moving to Edinburgh in 2018 to realise that very aspiration. Injuries and an enforced relegation weren’t in his career development plan but finally a career ambition will be achieved in St Gallen’s Kybunpark on Thursday.
A contract extension signed in June became Haring’s passport to the Europa League play-off. Group games in that competition or its little brother, the Europa Conference League, will follow depending on the aggregate result against Swiss champions FC Zurich.
It’s fair to say he is excited by the prospect. “Massively. That was another reason why I wanted to stay at Hearts to experience that with this club,” said Haring.
“Every year since I've been here we've tried to get that and finally we are in Europe. We want to get through and there is a bit of pressure on you. I want to enjoy the coming weeks, trips and games. Hopefully we can get the best results possible.”
“We had [domestic] games in midweek at Tynecastle, but it is something special and something most of our team haven't experienced yet. We are looking forward to it and hopefully we do well in Europe as well.”
As an Austrian about to face a team from a neighbouring nation in central Europe, Haring does not feel especially motivated by geographical rivalry. It might be different were Hearts playing a German club but historically there is not huge sporting friction between Austria and Switzerland.
“It’s more a rivalry in skiing than football,” said Haring. “Austria and Switzerland, I'd say we are more mates than rivals. We've got more in common.
“I'm looking forward to it as we are playing in St Gallen and one of my former teams [Austria Lustenau] is just on the border, so it's about a 15-minute drive from there. I'm probably going to see a few of my old team-mates and mates who were there. I'm trying to get them tickets.”
Another familiar face he will encounter is Donis Avdijaj. The Kosovo international winger played three games for Hearts in 2020 as Haring spent the entire campaign sidelined by hip and groin problems.
“I don’t know him so much from Hearts. When he was here I wasn't playing, I wasn't even training with the team. I was doing my own stuff due to injury. I remember from playing with Sturm Graz in Austria.
"He was there for two years I think and did really well there before going back to Schalke. I knew him from there and knew he is definitely a player who has his qualities.”
The Zurich coach Franco Foda spent more than four years in charge of the Austrian national team so Haring has in idea of what to expect this week.
“I played with a few players who played under him. I think he always wants to play football and control the game. I don't think his idea of football will have changed.”