EXCITEMENT is building at Riccarton as Hearts’ pre-season campaign gets underway and new signings arrive.
Polish defender Blazej Augustyn has been joined by striker Gavin Reilly from Queen of the South, while Spanish forward Juanma jets into Edinburgh airport today. Head coach Robbie Neilson’s jigsaw is beginning to fit together.
Reilly is the best known of the three given his scoring exploits at Queen of the South in recent years. Juanma has prompted most excitement to date as a bustling and powerful striker not short on mobility. Augustyn is the unknown quantity – a towering central defender with an impressive CV but limited experience of British football.
Neilson expects the 27-year-old to adapt quickly. He played once in a brief spell with Bolton Wanderers as a teenager and has since spent time in his homeland and in Italy’s Serie A with Catania.
“He’s somebody we’d heard about a while ago. You have your eye on somebody and then wait and see if anything turns up,” said Neilson. “He’s a good player. He’s got a physical presence at 6ft 3in. He’s quick, strong in the air, aggressive, a good tackler, good passer of the ball. He’s got all the attributes to be a top player.”
One possible downside is the two cruciate ligament injuries suffered by Augustyn, pictured below, since he left Bolton. Neilson is unperturbed. “He’s had two cruciate injuries so he’s done both his knees but, listen, this is Scotland.” The head coach makes the point that most top-quality players arriving in the Scottish league – particularly to a newly-promoted club – are likely to have a flaw of some sort.
Hearts checked Augustyn’s medical history thoroughly prior to his signing and are happy with his condition.
“He’s played in Serie A at a good level. He’s played in the Polish league and in England, so he’s got a good pedigree. It’s our job to try and manage him to make sure we get the best out of him,” added Neilson.
Reilly’s signing brings a long-term transfer target to Tynecastle.
“I’m pleased to get him on board,” admitted Neilson. “We’ve been working on it for quite a while now, since before the end of last season, to try and get it tied up. It took a while but now he’s finally here and we’re delighted. I think he’s one of the better young strikers in Scotland. He has great potential. Coming here, working with Stevie Crawford [assistant coach], he has great potential to push on and score goals. We knew about him last season. Even the season before that we knew he was a good player. Last year he scored big goals in big games. When you look at strikers, you always try to see how important their goals were, who they were against and what part of the game. He’s one of those guys who score goals in big games and big moments. I think he’ll be able to do that here as well. It’s okay coming on at 3-0 and scoring a goal. It’s guys who are going to score goals in 1-0 victories and 2-1 games – that’s when you can tell they really mean something.”
There are more new faces to come as, amongst others, Hearts’ scouting network continues searching for the left-back who will replace Adam Eckersely. “I’d envisage two, possibly three more at the most. We don’t need a lot. It’s just bringing in quality that will add to the squad,” said Neilson.
“I’d like to think we’ll get what we want in the next couple of weeks. That would give us a bit of time to prepare. You want to get boys in early but you don’t want to rush things. You want to make sure the guys you want are the ones you get in. At the moment, we’re on course to do that.”
Suggestions of interest in the Danish defender Jens Jonsson, who plays with AGF Aarhus, were dismissed. “I’ve absolutely no idea who he is,” stated Neilson.
Whilst incoming transfers get adrenalin pumping amongst supporters, the prospect of Hearts’ own prize assets being lured away cannot be ignored. The attraction of proving themselves in the Scottish Premiership after romping to the Championship title should see most, if not all, stay put for now. Indeed, Neilson feels they ought to challenge themselves in the top flight before thinking of any career move.
“I think they do want that. I think they need to do it for themselves for a season in the top flight,” he stressed. “They did it in the Championship but it’s a big step up. If they can prove themselves in the top league, I think there will be more interest in the players after that.
“The English market shuts down until about the start of July. I don’t think we’ll get many bids in. If we do, we’re in a good position where we don’t need to sell. We’ll decide if anything comes in whether it’s something we want to do. At the moment, I’m quite happy with everything I’ve got.”