In the halcyon summer of 2015, when Hearts supporters’ spirits were soaring after a record-breaking season in the Championship, the signing of an unknown Polish centre back set the ball rolling on Robbie Neilson’s first top flight recruitment drive.
Brought in as the de facto replacement for former captain Danny Wilson, who later elected to remain in the second tier with Rangers, Błażej Augustyn arrived from Polish Ekstraklasa outfit Gornik Zabrze, where he had played for the previous two seasons.
Born in Strzelin, Augustyn’s starting point in senior football came in the relatively unconventional setting of Engand’s North West, where he signed his first professional deal with a Bolton Wanderers side whose first-team dressing room at the time housed the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo.
His professional debut (which doubled up as his only appearance for the Trotters) came in January 2007, a few weeks before his 19th birthday, when he replaced Abdoulaye Meite in the 83rd minute of a 4-0 FA Cup win away to Doncaster Rovers. Despite being offered a new contract by manager Sammy Lee, Augustyn opted for a return to Poland in search of more game time and signed a four-year deal with Polish giants Legia Warsaw, a move he later admitted did not go as he had initially hoped:
“I had an offer from Legia Warsaw, the big club in Poland and I knew I would have more chances to play …but it wasn’t a good decision. I didn’t play a lot and then had few injuries. The only positive I think was that after one year I went to Italy and managed to reach Serie A.”
Following an initial loan spell with Rimini in Serie B, Augustyn made the permanent move to Italy when he signed a four-year contract with Catania, where he worked under Diego Simeone (who he later described as a “madman”) before spending time on loan with Vicenza.
Though his five years in Italy were somewhat peppered with injury problems, the overall experience of calcio – which saw him go toe-to-toe with such giants of the game as Daniele De Rossi, Luca Toni and Alessandro Del Piero – was something a young Augustyn valued greatly, later referring to Italy as a “special country”.
Having featured only once during his final year in Sicily, Augustyn returned to his homeland upon the expiry of his contract to sign for Gornik Zabrze, only to be sidelined with a foot injury for the vast majority of his first season. The 2014-15 campaign proved more successful, with 18 starts in all competitions, though injuries and suspensions (including an eight-game ban in the closing weeks) continued to creep in, keeping him out for significant chunks of the season. That summer, he departed for Edinburgh.
A centre back at the more traditional end of the spectrum – tough, committed and seemingly happier attacking the ball in the air than being asked to do anything with it at his feet – Augustyn’s initial appearances in maroon suggested he would be well-suited to the raw physicality of Scottish football.
However, at a time when Hearts were still recovering from the financial follies of years gone by, the arrival of players with previous injury baggage (players whose paths may not have passed through Gorgie otherwise) became a common theme in the club’s signing strategy and while the Pole claimed to have put the worst of his own fitness problems behind him, a knee injury after only his second appearance set the tone, forcing him out of the next five games.
Despite a shaky performance in his return to action against Aberdeen – a game that saw Hearts trail 3-0 at the interval – Augustyn soon found his feet and contributed to four clean sheets in his next five appearances, a run punctuated by a one-match suspension he picked up after being sent off for a professional foul against Ross County. It was at this stage of the season, between mid-October and the turn of the year, that Augustyn skippered the side on six of the eight occasions he received the captain’s armband during his time at the club.
The new year also gave Augustyn a taste of the Edinburgh Derby when the Scottish Cup draw paired Hearts with their city rivals (still in the Championship at that point) though his experience of the fixture would ultimately end in disappointment. Having come agonisingly close to winning the initial home tie for Hearts when his late header was cleared off the line, Augustyn was sent off in the subsequent replay by referee John Beaton who, in characteristically militant fashion, took umbrage with the way he threw the ball back to an opponent for a free kick.
Unfortunately for Augustyn, January also signalled the beginning of the end of his Hearts career when the arrival of John Souttar from Dundee United coincided with a one match ban the Pole picked up for crossing the disciplinary points threshold. Stepping into the side in Augustyn’s absence, Souttar impressed on his debut – a 3-0 win up in Dingwall against Ross County – to the extent that he continued to hold down a regular starting position. Of the 14 fixtures that remained in the league, Augustyn would feature in only six, the last of which came against Celtic at the end of April, before a back injury ruled him out for the rest of the season.
With his one-year deal set to expire that summer, Augustyn departed Tynecastle, stopping off in Italy’s Serie B for a season with Ascoli before returning to his homeland, where he picked up a Polish Cup winner’s medal in May 2019 with Lechia Gdansk, defeating Jagiellonia Bialystok, the club he later signed for in 2020.
Given the number of notable duds who darkened the club’s door since, it is perhaps unsurprising that many supporters include less memorable signings like Augustyn in the same category. Yet, such clouded judgement only serves to diminish Augustyn’s role in a defence that finished the season second-strongest in the league and though his name is never going to appear in discussions about the club’s defensive greats, he was far from being a complete failure. Considering the general standard of signings that followed his fleeting time at the club, a spot somewhere in the middle certainly counts for something.
|Place of Birth|
|Date of Birth|
|Signed From||Free Agent|
|Signed By||Robbie Neilson|
|Competitive Debut||v St Johnstone|
|Season||League||S Cup||L Cup||Europe||Total|
|Season||League||S Cup||L Cup||Europe||Total|
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