Wir kommen von den Bergen (We are from the mountains) is one of Hansi Hinterseer’s most famous songs, but the words could just as easily apply to Austrian forward Lukas Hinterseer, currently leading the line for German second-division pacesetters Ingolstadt. That is because the former skier and current pop singer is not only the striker’s namesake, he also happens to be his uncle.
A closer look at the Hinterseer family tree reveals a long-standing affinity for the slopes, making it all the more surprising that the 23-year-old ended up a professional footballer.
Like his uncle Hansi, Lukas’ father was also a successful skier, winning gold at the 1982 Junior World Cup. His grandfather Ernst Hinterseer went one better, claiming bronze in the Giant Slalom and gold in the Slalom at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
So just how did he come to choose the pitch ahead of the piste? Growing up in Kitzbuhel, one of the most famous ski resorts in Austria, the youngster naturally spent some time on the slopes, even competitively. Yet his desire to play the beautiful game was strong even then: “As a young child I still wanted a ball, and at home I broke a lot of lights,” Hinterseer told FIFA.com. His mother sent him to a local football club which “spelt the end for skiing. Once in, I didn’t want to leave.”
The decision proved to be an inspired one. The 6’3 striker went on to establish himself in the Austrian Bundesliga and eventually made his international debut in a 1-0 win against USA in November 2013. His family were proud and maybe even pleased that he had not become a skier. “I’ve always had great support. My grandfather loved it, for example, and wanted to be at every game. I think he almost preferred it because skiing is perhaps more dangerous. Plus football is easier to watch.”
That said, watching Lukas live has involved quite a lot of travelling for his family. At the start of the current season, Hinterseer left Wacker Innsbruck for Ingolstadt in Germany’s second tier. Once there, he quickly adapted to his new surroundings, as evidenced by his performances and strike rate. Seven goals in 18 games have been instrumental in the club’s rise to the top of the table, as they look to secure a place in the country’s top flight next season.
Hinterseer is clearly enjoying himself, with a smile ever-present on his face. The comparison with his uncle and his upbeat music is a valid one, and has not gone unnoticed by the German media. The young man from the mountains is unfazed though. “Everyone has an uncle. Mine just happens to be famous, although he is celebrated for a completely different reason. But yes, we’re both in the papers so I have no problem being asked about him.”
“Hansi” as Lukas is known in the team, prefers his football to do the talking. His consistent performances have earned him regular call-ups to the national team, who are currently flying high in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying at the top of Group G.
Hinterseer looks forward to every international game, even when he does not get the chance to play. Given the quality in the squad and the results so far, Lukas believes Austria can finally qualify for a major tournament, having not graced one since they jointly hosted EURO 2008. The striker is not getting ahead of himself, though, insisting “there’s a long way to go before France”. Ready to do what it takes to be successful, he is not putting pressure on himself to become a regular starter, preferring instead to be patient and wait for his chance.
His move to Germany was a calculated one and certainly does not hinder his international chances. “There are a lot of examples in Austria where players have moved to another team in the top flight and it did not work out,” he said. Hinterseer was quickly convinced by Ingolstadt and their ambitions, and is keen to grow with the club and play first division football. “There’s nothing better than competing in the top flight in the home of the world champions, and I’d like to do it with Ingolstadt.”
His coach and compatriot at Ingolstadt, Ralph Hasenhuttl, believes Hinterseer can only improve, as he revealed in a recent interview with German newspaper Suddeutschen Zeitung: “Lukas is hungry to learn and has a lot of potential. He’s made great strides with us and is a long way from finishing his development. If he continues to work hard, he’ll have a lot to look forward to.”
In a few days time, the winter break starts in Germany and Hinterseer can rest and reflect. The Austrian will not be heading home to the mountains and slopes though, opting instead to recuperate with plenty of sand and sun. With his future now on grass, he is leaving the skiing to his family – even if he will always be from the mountains.