The news that Peter Haring has signed a two-year extension to the previous deal he inked upon his arrived from SV Ried should spark unanimous approval among those who call Tynecastle their second home. Craig Levein recently talked about putting the foundations in place to make this Hearts squad a strong one for years to come. On the evidence of this season, Haring had to be one of those pieces and the club rightly worked for weeks to get him tied down.
This writer recently described the 25-year-old as the third best player at his position in the country. That may appear to be an example of looking at things through maroon-tinted spectacles, but let me assure you: there is no single other Hearts player in this current team I would even dream of saying that about.
The Austrian has been one of the signings of the season and a real source of positivity in what has otherwise been another negative campaign for all those of a Jambo persuasion. He was outstanding in the first half of the campaign, including playing through a double hernia at a time when Hearts players were dropping like flies. His form hasn’t quite been as strong as returning from the injury in February, though with a groin problem also plaguing the midfielder, it’s quite likely that a period of rest in pre-season is exactly what’s needed to get peak Haring back again next campaign. Even if he isn’t among the best centre-midfielders in the country - after Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie there’s about 15 of similar quality you could argue over - there’s little doubt he’s great entertainment value.
Haring plays the midfield position similarly to how Uche Ikpeazu operates up front: he’s got a tremendous chaos factor about him and routinely flattens smaller opponents foolish enough to stand in his way. He’s built like a defender yet moves like an active wrecking ball that has taken on human form. Where most centre-backs struggle to operate in the midfield area because, regardless of pace, they’re too slow to move laterally (for example, you couldn’t imagine Christophe Berra making the transition seamlessly) Haring is able to excel because he’s the got the flexibility in his hips required to go one way or the other without impersonating a tanker trying to change direction.
His hunger for second balls is ravenous. The monsters in A Quiet Place don’t move as quickly as the Austrian when there’s exposed prey to be devoured. He seems to sense where a loose ball is going to land before everyone else in the stadium and he is on it in a flash. This skill is incredibly important to getting his side on the front foot and stopping them from being camped in their own half for long periods. It’s why his availability in the final against Celtic is of the utmost importance.
To paint him purely as a defensive enforcer would be wrong, though. His impact at the other end was evident in the first instance of Levein moving him into midfield. Aside from the impact off the bench of two teenagers, Haring’s rampaging runs from deep were one of few positives in the Betfred Cup group match with Raith Rovers, a stinker of a performance that almost got the newly assembled team eliminated from the competition before it’d barely even started. Having looked mundane in the back three, Haring was pushed forward in the second period, where he routinely raced into the opposing penalty box to get his head on to crosses.
He started in the midfield the following game against Cowdenbeath and that’s been his position since. Continuing his menace from the previous week, he netted the opener in that match and it’s been a facet of his game since, with seven goals to his name thus far.
That’s not to say he’s merely a destructive force who relies solely on his physical qualities. He’s composed in possession and willing to take the play in tight areas. He’s also brave with his use of the ball. When nothing’s on he can send it back to where it came from, as we would expect from a defensive midfielder these days, but with room to move into he will get his head up, scan the final third and look to play a killer pass. His accuracy can be inconsistent, especially on his ranging crossfield balls, but in a team that often lacks players with conviction in the attacking third, such an assured nature is welcome even if the football does sail out of the park at times.
And finally... he wears a headband. I mean, what more could you want?