Patiently for four months, Krystian Nowak visited Riccarton on every day off to train by himself. An unshakeable belief that he had the quality to play for Hearts drove him through many a lonely session. The toil and sweat was finally rewarded at Dens Park on Friday night.
The Pole finally made his debut for the club with whom he signed a two-year contract in August. He had much to prove and performed impressively as a defensive midfielder. It had been a long wait. The manager he signed for, Robbie Neilson, never once put him on the pitch and it took his successor, Ian Cathro, to offer a chance - which Nowak seized.
The 22-year-old spoke to the Evening News about his endeavours to gain a place in the Hearts team. He remained focused and determined, training with the squad and then again by himself when team-mates were relaxing on a day off. The extra effort earned him a starting place against Dundee, which he should keep against Kilmarnock this e’vening.
“I trained hard for myself because I believe in myself. I know I can play good in this team and that’s why I pushed myself every day,” Nowak explained in his first media interview in Scotland. “If we had a day off, I would go to the training ground and train. I wasn’t playing so I trained more because I wanted to get into the team.
“This has been good for me, I have now made my debut. I want to progress so I decided I must train more. If I train more, I feel better. I like hard work and I like lots of training. Then, on the pitch, I have more energy and more power.
“I waited four months but the whole time I was training hard and waiting for my chance. On Friday, I got my debut so I was glad about that. The result is not good for us. We had a good result at 2-0 and then we lost three stupid goals. Now we must pick up for these next two games against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen.”
Nowak’s performance was an undoubted positive for Hearts after they surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2. His confident in midfield becomes all the more remarkable when he reveals he hadn’t played there for three years.
“Three years ago it was normal for me to play defensive midfield, but then I moved to centre-back. I have not played defensive midfield for three years,” he continued. “Friday was my first game there for three years because all the time I have been playing in central defence. It’s not the same but it is quite similar.
“I don’t mind where I play. I can play in defence, I can play in midfield, I just want to play. It’s no problem. All the time I waited because I want to play for Hearts. We have very good supporters. They fill the stadium at home and they come away and they sell out their section. I want to play here and play for them.”
He never hid his desire to force his way onto the field and held meetings with Neilson to ask when an opportunity might arise. He had played all of his career in his native Poland but left Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała in the summer believing he could carve his future in Britain.
That belief never waned, although Nowak admitted a hefty dose of perseverance was needed to go with it. “I spoke with the last manager and he said: ‘Wait, train hard, play in the second team and wait. Then you will get a chance.’ I did this,” he explained.
“When I had the chance, I played for the second team at under-20 level to feel better. If a player does not play, he does not feel confident. I played the under-20 matches and waited and finally I got my debut with the first team. I will wait to see what happens against Kilmarnock now.
“It’s the coach’s choice so I must respect this, keep training and wait for my chance. I’m very happy I played on Friday but I’m not happy with the result. If we won, it would be a good result. We have to be ready tonight against Kilmarnock.”
Hearts fans shuffling out of Dens Park in dejection at the result on Friday would also have been mindful of Nowak’s contribution. The man himself was relatively content with his first outing in the Scottish Premiership.
“I want to play and show what I can do. I want to help my team,” he continued. “I played defensive midfield so I wanted to take the ball, to pass and to move. I tried to pass the ball into space for the strikers. I think I played not bad.”
Off the field, Nowak has his girlfriend for company and has just spent his first Christmas outside his homeland. He lives a typically quiet life, with his football career very much the priority.
“This year is my first Christmas with my girlfriend. It is our first year outside Poland but I am happy that I am not alone,” he stated.
“My girlfriend lives with me in Edinburgh. Sometimes we go to eat something or go into the city, but I prefer to stay at home and relax. I have Polish TV so I can watch all the Polish channels. I prefer this.”