Marcus Godinho: I had to leave Hearts to save my career

After being restricted to just 20 appearances in three years at Hearts, Marcus Godinho is relishing the chance of a fresh start in Germany as he bids to realise the potential that caused so much excitement when he first arrived in Edinburgh as a buccaneering right-back in summer 2016.

Marcus Godinho pictured in training for Hearts

Three knee operations, an inability to train or play on synthetic pitches as a result, and formidable competition from the ever-dependable Michael Smith meant the Canadian was never able to generate any momentum in maroon. Towards the end of last season, he knew he had to seek a move elsewhere in order to avoid stagnating.

“After Michael Smith came back from injury (in April), I spoke to Craig Levein and told him I wasn’t happy given the astro aspect of it and not getting the playing time I felt I needed to develop properly,” Godinho told the Evening News. “We had an honest conversation, he was really good with me and he told me if I could sort something out, he wouldn’t stand in my way but if nothing came up he would be happy to have me back this season. I learned a lot from Mick Smith but it was tough to get a look-in when he was fit because he plays well every week. Even when I got an opportunity and played well, it always felt like something would get in my way. I just couldn’t get a good run.”

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One of the main issues hindering Godinho was the fact he was advised to stay off synthetic surfaces due to knee problems which first flared up early in his Hearts career. “It was tough because even when I was doing well I couldn’t get any momentum,” he said. “Like after the St Johnstone game (in January) when I scored and played well, it was frustrating because I couldn’t play the next game at Kilmarnock and the team won and I was out the team again.

“Most of the time last season I was playing with a bit of swelling but the main thing was that I had to stay away from astro completely. The team was training on astro quite a lot in winter so I just had to go to the gym and try and stay fit that way. There were times I’d come in and play a game when I hadn’t trained properly for a couple of weeks. It was really tough to be sharp and physically up to speed.”

When the 22-year-old had made up his mind to leave Hearts, remaining in Scotland wasn’t an option since several teams in this country now play on plastic. “I didn’t look at staying in Scotland because the main thing for me was to get away from astro,” he said. “The surgeon and the physios told me if I kept playing on it I’d have a really short career. Any time I was on it, even when I did a little jog, I’d feel it right away and have a reaction the next day. The best option was to go somewhere where I’d be playing and training on grass all year round, so I could give myself the best possible chance of being a first-choice right-back.”

In the end, Godinho opted to take up the offer of a two-year contract from FSV Zwickau, a German third-tier side who play in a 10,000-seat stadium. He made his debut as a late substitute in their league opener on Saturday but admits he will need time to get up to speed after only joining his new team a fortnight ago.

“Grass pitches are mandatory here and all the training pitches are grass. I was a bit unsure at first when I heard a third division team were interested but I watched a few of their games online, spoke to a few guys I know in Germany and after speaking to the manager and seeing the facilities, I knew this would be a great opportunity.

“The manager really believes in me, which is what I need right now. I’m hoping to play significantly more than I did at Hearts because I need to progress. I need to get myself right and get myself back to the level I was at before the inconsistencies of last season. I had no issues with the injury while I was away with Canada over the summer and I had no issue with it towards the end of my time at Hearts so I’m hopeful that if I avoid Astro, everything will be fine. I feel good as new at the moment.”