Tynecastle Park has been a breeding ground for young right-backs for more than 40 years. Marcus Godinho is the latest off a production line which shows no sign of stalling.
He made his Hearts senior debut on Sunday to add his name to a long list of home-grown defenders.
Jamie Brandon, Liam Smith, Callum Paterson and Ryan McGowan are more familiar amongst the modern generation of fans. However, before many were even born, the likes of Robbie Neilson, Gary Locke, Alan McLaren and Walter Kidd rampaged up and down the Hearts right after breaking through from the club’s youth ranks.
Godinho is next in line. Aged 20, he is an ambitious young Canadian with an intriguingly romantic name for a footballer. It belongs to his Portuguese father and he enjoys the glamour of its Brazilian sounding. A few glimpses of his ability could be seen at Fir Park on Sunday if you looked beyond the stark reality of Hearts’ Scottish Cup quarter-final exit against Motherwell.
It must be said that, although Godinho isn’t short on skill or flair, his aggression and determination ensure he is no sand-dancer or Samba boy. He joined Hearts almost two years ago with a burning desire to become their first-choice right-back. Sunday was a little reward for an exhausting and frustrating 21 months.
“Personally, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be in terms of the stress and pressure. I enjoy it,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “Even when I play an under-20 game, I treat it like I want to win. Everything I do, I’m very competitive. I’ve been brought up with that in my head. Sunday felt like another game I wanted to win.
“It’s been a while to get into the team because of injuries. I’ve worked hard to get back involved with the first-team squad. I’m happy they’ve noticed that and given me my opportunity. It’s an amazing feeling getting out there.
“I had an idea on Saturday that I might be involved but I didn’t find out for sure until Sunday morning. I wouldn’t say I was overly nervous. There were a little bit of nerves but nothing major. I was just really buzzing for it. This is everything I’ve worked for. I was really excited to get my opportunity. There is obviously a little bit of pressure but I love the pressure, personally.”
He would be forgiven for feeling impatient at times this season. Ten different teenagers have sampled the Hearts first-team since last summer and Godinho has looked on with slight envy – often from the treatment room.
“I wouldn’t say I was impatient. I’ve been struggling and I’ve been in and out of training because of my knee. I think the timing was right for me on Sunday, I wouldn’t say I’d been kept waiting too long. My confidence is better and I’m having less injury problems now.
“When I came to Hearts for pre-season in 2016, I was involved right at the start. Then I tore my meniscus tendon a few games into the season and had an operation. I was only back three weeks and I tore a cartilage. Since then I’ve been struggling. I’ve been in and out, they put me on loan [to Berwick Rangers] for experience and that got my confidence back. When we went to Spain in January I started having problems again with my knee. It was swelling up, I think because of all the training.
“I’ve just been easing myself back in since then. It’s been a long process – frustrating at times – but I’ve got there in the end. I feel like this is a bit of reward now. I want to get myself cemented into the team. I hope to stay in and around the team at first and eventually be the regular right-back.”
The Tynecastle hierarchy clearly feel has the potential. They handed him a new two-year contract last month and a debut this month. Sunday’s 2-1 loss hammered home the reality of top-team football as Hearts were knocked out of the Scottish Cup. The player is honest enough when asked to assess his own performance.
“The first half wasn’t the best. I was a bit nervous, to be fair, and I made a couple of mistakes,” he said. “I felt I grew into the game a bit in the second half. There are a lot of things I can improve on. We have a big game on Friday against Hibs so we have to get past this disappointment.”
Craig Levein has shown commendable faith in youth in his second spell managing Hearts. It is not inconceivable that he could throw Godinho into the pressure cooker of Easter Road. “I’ll be hoping. I’ll see how things go this week but obviously I want to play,” said the defender.
He faces stern competition at right-back. Northern Ireland internationalist Michael Smith and Liverpool loanee Connor Randall have considerably more experience than Godinho. Another youth prospect, Jamie Brandon, would also be in the mix but for a season-ending knee injury.
“Seeing Jamie doing so well in the team while I was injured really pushed me on,” admitted Godinho. “As soon as I see someone doing more than me I go right back out to do more and more. It’s good to have that competition.”