Amid a demoralising past month or so for Hearts, the emergence of Marcus Godinho at right-back has been one of the few highlights.
After injury wrote off his first season with the Tynecastle club, the 20-year-old Canadian has had to bide his time in order to start making his presence felt.
Steeled by a loan spell with Berwick Rangers in the first half of the current campaign, Godinho has seized his big chance since being handed a surprise Hearts debut in last month’s Scottish Cup defeat by Motherwell. The Canuck has now started four matches in succession for his club and has also been capped by his country for the first time within that period. The impressive manner in which he has adapted to life in the first team has come as little surprise to those who have been monitoring him closely since his arrival in Scotland in summer 2016.
“We know he’s a good player,” manager Craig Levein told the Evening News. “He’s been highly regarded since he arrived. He would have been ahead of where he is if he hadn’t had so many injury problems. Robbie Neilson had him involved in the first team in the summer when he first came in and we were very much looking forward to having him involved in the first team at that point, but he just had one problem after another. The cartilage problem he had was quite serious because it’s a very unusual injury, so he’s only now starting to get back to where he was a year and a half ago.”
Godinho viewed his loan stint with Berwick as a crucial factor in restoring his form, fitness and confidence levels after his demoralising first year in Edinburgh. Having been unable to undergo a proper pre-season due to injury, the chance to go out on loan to the League Two side at the end of August offered him a chance to get himself back on track out of the spotlight. Robbie Horn, the Berwick manager and former Hearts youngster, couldn’t speak highly enough of Godinho.
“I’d just got the job at Berwick before the summer transfer window shut and I was scrambling about trying to get players in,” said Horn, recalling how he first got the player to Shielfield Park. “Jon Daly (the Hearts coach) phoned me and asked if I’d be interested in Marcus. I had only seen him play for the Under-20s against Hibs that week – I think it was his first game back after injury. We were really short at right-back and Jon spoke really highly of him, so we took him in and he was great for us.
“He was fantastic to work with – he had a superb attitude and was just a really likeable kid. He never had any airs or graces about him. He settled in really quickly and was part of the squad straight away. Sometimes when you get players coming down to this level, they think they’re better than they are and can turn their nose up at playing lower-league football but Marcus wasn’t like that. He saw it as an opportunity to get game time and get himself fit. I can’t fault his attitude. He was well liked by everybody at Berwick.”
Although Berwick were struggling at the wrong end of League Two, Horn could tell Godinho was a player of substance. “When he first came in, he was short of match fitness, but he quickly got that,” he explained. “You could see he was a quality player. Defending one v one he was very solid, he had decent pace, a good bit of aggression, liked to get forward and he was comfortable on the ball, which he’s continued to show at Hearts.
“He’s obviously pretty short, but he was physically strong and ready to play at this level. He’d obviously been working hard in the gym and looking after himself. He’s good in the air for his size. He scored a header from a corner for Hearts Under-20s shortly before he got into the first team and he also defends pretty well in the air for his size. He’s got a decent spring on him and he likes to go and attack the ball, so I don’t see his size being an issue for him.
“I felt the thing he needed to improve on was his final ball when he got into the final third, but from watching him in the last couple of games for Hearts, he looks like he’s already improved on that. He was involved in Hearts’ goal (against Dundee) on Sunday with a good pass through to Ross Callachan so that’s obviously something he’s been working on. If he gets that sorted, then he’s got all the attributes to be a really good right-back for Hearts, there’s no doubt about that.
“When he left here in January, we thought he’d probably go out on loan to a Championship side, but he obviously got called into the Hearts first-team squad. In the games I’ve watched, since he’s been in the first team, he’s been Hearts’ best performer. It’s credit to him that he’s managed to do that.”
Levein has been similarly impressed by Godinho’s impact in a position where Hearts have stiff competition for places. “I’ve been pleased with him,” said the Hearts manager. “He’s getting better every week. He’s got great energy. The amount of running he did against Dundee on Sunday was quite phenomenal. I don’t see any reason why he won’t be a prominent member of the squad next season.”