Marcus Godinho is aiming to belatedly kick-start his career in Scotland after his first season at Hearts was written off by serious injury problems.
The 20-year-old Canadian right-back arrived in Edinburgh 15 months ago and made an instant impression when involved with Robbie Neilson’s first team last pre-season. However, any chance of establishing himself was dashed a year ago when he suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his knee and subsequently spent 11 months on the sidelines in which he had to undergo two operations.
Having returned to training at the end of July, after all his colleagues had undertaken a full pre-season, Godinho is only now beginning to experience the thrill of playing again.
After featuring in two development league matches over the past fortnight, Hearts arranged for a loan deal with Berwick Rangers until January late on transfer-deadline day.
On Saturday, Godinho experienced his first taste of competitive senior football as he played a full 90 minutes for the first time in a year in the League Two side’s 5-0 defeat at home to Queen of the South in the Irn-Bru Cup. Despite the result, the Toronto boy is relieved to finally be making some headway in his pursuit of a place in Hearts’ first-team.
“It was a dream start last summer because I was training with the first team straight away which was amazing, but then I got injured and I was gutted,” said Godinho. “It first happened in September but I’m not sure how. My knee just started hurting and it lingered for a while. It started to progressively get worse and it got to the point where I couldn’t go on. It was really swollen and really sore so I had an operation in October.
“I came back from that in January and then I snapped my articular cartilage in February so I had to have another operation.
“The two injuries are pretty close but we’re not sure if they’re related. The second one kept me out for another six months, right into this season. I missed all of pre-season and I’ve only been back training for five weeks. It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard to get back playing.”
Being away from home exacerbated Godinho’s plight during his lay-off although the bond he has formed with fellow Canadian youngsters Dario Zanatta and Harry Paton has been a big help. “It’s pretty tough being injured when you’re in a new country and you’ve not got your family around you,” he said. “After the second operation I was on crutches for about eight weeks so it was really tough getting around and doing everything on my own.
“A lot of the guys were really helpful though. Callum Paterson used to come and pick me up, and Harry and Dario were around whenever I needed help. It’s not quite the same as having your family with you but I got through it and it’s made me a lot stronger.
“It’s helped me massively having Harry and Dario here. They’re like family. I knew them both vaguely from playing for Canada Under-20s before I came here but they’re my closest friends at Hearts. Outside of football, everything’s been amazing. I love the city, and I’ve made some really good friends – I’m loving it.”
The highly-rated Godinho could only look on as fellow young right-backs Liam Smith and Jamie Brandon won first-team game time while he was sidelined. “It’s frustrating because those guys got in when Callum Paterson got injured but at the same time it’s good for them and it shows that it is possible to get into the first team if I keep working hard. I just need to stay positive and hopefully I’ll get there.”
Godinho’s contract expires at the end of this season so he is well aware of the importance of seizing his chance under new Berwick manager Robbie Horn, who came through the ranks at Hearts two decades ago. “It’s a big year,” he said. “Hearts are planning to have someone watch me every other week. There’s going to be some pressure to make sure I do well over the next few months, but I’m up for it and if I do well, hopefully I’ll be ready to go back and get a chance at Hearts in January.”
Godinho had no idea he would be heading out on loan until around five hours before the deadline last Thursday.
“I got a call about 7pm on Thursday to say there was a chance I could go to Berwick and then about 9.30pm they told me to Tynecastle,” he explained. “I had no idea I’d be going on loan. It wasn’t something we’d spoken about previously. It all happened pretty quickly. It was a complete surprise to me but I was happy to go because it was just to go out and get regular minutes.”