Krystian Nowak made up his mind to join Hearts after fellow Polish defender Blazej Augustyn recommended the club to him.
The 22-year-old moved to Tynecastle on a two-year deal earlier this week after impressing while on trial at Riccarton. Nowak comes in to fill defensive voids left by the summer departures of Jordan McGhee, on loan to Middlesbrough, and Augustyn, to Serie B side Ascoli.
Although Augustyn decided against extending his contract at Hearts because he wanted to play more regularly, the giant centre-back gave a ringing endorsement of the club when his compatriot, who has the same agent, asked him what to expect.
“I spoke with Blazej and he told me all about the club,” said Nowak. “He spoke only good things. When it came to making the decision, it was easy. Blazej said Hearts would be good for my career and a good step for me. I’ve played in Poland for four years and I want to go to the next stage. It’s a good place for me to do that.”
Prior to officially concluding his move to Hearts on Monday, Nowak watched from the stand as his new team ran Celtic close in a rumbustious 2-1 defeat at a packed Tynecastle. The occasion whetted the Pole’s appetite for what lies ahead. “I’m excited to be here,” said the former Poland Under-17 internationalist. “It’s good here for me, we have a good training centre with very good pitches and the stadium is excellent. When I was here for the game against Celtic I felt good and wanted to play.
“It was a very good match, we played very well. We were better than Celtic but could not score more goals. The atmosphere was very, very good. Hearts have very good supporters. I felt it when I sat in the stadium, and also from the bench at St Johnstone on Wednesday night. They are like a twelfth man for the team.”
Nowak insists he is relishing the physical nature of Scottish football. Head coach Robbie Neilson has no concerns about the 6ft 2ins being able to stand up to the challenge after accumulating more than 100 appearances in Polish football with Widzew Lodz and Podbeskidzie, whom he played for last season. Nowak will be in the squad for today’s Premiership showdown with Aberdeen at Pittodrie after being listed among the substitutes for Wednesday’s Betfred Cup defeat by St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
“He’s ready, he’s fit,” said Neilson. “He played 30-odd games last year in Poland and he’s had a decent pre-season himself. He has come in and trained with us for over three weeks so he should be in decent shape.
“The Polish league is as close to the Scottish league as you’ll get on the continent. It’s quite physical, it’s quite strong. It’s maybe not quite at the British level, but it’s probably the next step down physically.”
Augustyn made 27 appearances for Hearts last season but didn’t feature regularly in the closing months of the season as Alim Ozturk, John Souttar and Igor Rossi were generally preferred in the centre-back berths. Nonetheless, Neilson was happy with the 28-year-old’s overall contribution, which was a factor in his decision to recruit another Polish defender.
“We had no issues with Blazej Augustyn coming in – he was strong and physical – and that was a reason that we looked at that league to try and get another one in,” said Neilson. “Blazej enjoyed his time here and he is now back in Italy in Serie B and we wish him well. It’s always nice when boys come here and enjoy it and recommend it to other people.”
Nowak is unlikely to be the final new signing to arrive at Hearts this summer. Neilson is still searching for a new wide player to add to his creative options.
“We’re still looking for a wide left player, that’s one I’d like to try and add but these things can take time,” he said. “I have an eye on a couple of guys but I am just waiting on things to get moving.”