Saviour Godwin: Casa Pia’s flying Nigerian realising his early potential

A lot can happen in 9 years. From winning the U17 World Cup, moving to the Premier League to play for Pep Guardiola’s star-studded Manchester City team, inevitably winning silverware for the Citizens, moving to Leicester City and being a mainstay in the world’s most high-profile league. For Kelechi Iheanacho a lot has happened in 9 years.

A lot happened to Saviour Godwin too in those 9 years. He was also part of Nigeria’s U17 World cup winning team, but Godwin’s path would not be as glamorous or successful as Iheanacho’s. How much of that was down to luck, circumstances, being in the right place at the right time is hard to say. What I can say, having watched Godwin closely several times this season, is that it certainly isn’t down to a lack of talent. 

Godwin was born on 22 August 1996 in Jos, Nigeria, or J-Town as it is more popularly known. Like many Nigerian kids, football was everything to him and he would play in the streets growing up. In an interview with Morakinyo Abodunrin for The Nation online Godwin credits his mother for believing in him when he was young. “She has always been there to take the pressure off me.”

He played for several grassroots teams including El-Kanemi Junior team before he hit stardom with the national team in 2013. The U17 team that won the world cup in the UAE included strikers Kelichi Iheanacho, Isaac Success and Taiwo Awoniyi. Godwin failed to make a real impact in the tournament, mainly used as a substitute, but the whole squad returned victorious and surrounded by a fanfare of hype. In the following years Iheanacho signed for Manchester City, Isaac Success signed for Udinese and Awoniyi for Liverpool.

U20 World Cup opens the door to Europe

The chance for Godwin would come later, after a more impressive contribution to Nigeria’s U20 World Cup campaign. After scoring two goals against North Korea and providing an assist against Hungary, Godwin was offered a chance at Belgium Club KV Oostende, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to play professional football in Europe.  

Many people in Nigeria, including Godwin, saw Belgium as the perfect place for young players to go and develop. “I chose to play in Belgium because it is a good place to start my career. It’s a good place for young players to start their career,” he said. Remarkably, there have been a total of 118 Nigerians who have played in the Pro League, making the it the 5th-ranked country in terms of players to have played in that league.

Dream debut followed by stagnation

A sensational start, scoring 4 minutes into his debut, would prove a false dawn, as a difficult start to his career in Belgium would see him go on to play only 22 minutes all season and fail to score again. The lack of opportunities led to Godwin being phased out of the national team set-up and despite manager Siasia staying loyal to the player who had played so well for him in the previous World Cups by picking him in an U23 friendly. That would be the last time Godwin would feature for the national team for several years.

With KV Oostende not extending his contract, Godwin was given another opportunity with Belgian second tier side Roeselare and signed a 3-year deal with them. He remained confident in his ability and the path he was on: “I am a growing into a fast winger who emulates and aspires to be like Ronaldo, Pedro and Victor Moses.” After a blistering start to the 2016/17 season, with 3 goals in his first 5 games, his minutes started to drop and he found it harder to get back into the team under the then manager Arnauld Mercier.

After a failed promotion playoff and slow start to the following season Mercier was sacked. Two managers later and half way through the season Godwin was still very much a fringe player but things were about to change. Spanish manager Jordi Condom saw his talent and he became a regular starter for Roeselare but failed to change the fortunes of the struggling team.

Resurgence at Roeselare

Saviour Godwin in his Roeselare days

It wasn’t till the 2018/19 season that Godwin truly made his mark on Belgian football. He scored 7 goals and 3 assists, 2 goals and an assist coming in the playoffs in which Roeselare were unsuccessful. He would get the same number of goals and assists the following season and become the club’s most capped African player. However, financial trouble hit Roeselare. Salaries weren’t paid and it ended with the club being denied a professional football licence. Godwin became a free agent. 

Having signed defender Nermin Zolotic, a teammate of Godwin’s at Roeselare, Casa Pia snapped him up to play for them in their quest for Primeira Liga football. It’s important to bear in mind that at this point Casa Pia had not played top-level football for 82 years. But under new investment from America and with an ambitious president, both Godwin and Zolotic (who not long ago had been part of the Gent team that had won the Pro league and almost qualified for the Champions League) were convinced of the project at Casa Pia.

Saviour Godwin did as Saviour Godwin always does and got off to a sensational start. A goal and an assist in a 31-minute substitute appearance on his debut earned Casa Pia a point. He settled into the team and became a key attacking player for manager Filipe Martins. The next season was Casa Pia’s year and with Godwin feeling more at home in Portugal his performances improved. It would prove to be a historical year for Casa Pia who earned promotion back to the top for the first time in 83 years. Godwin was voted Player of the Year in the Second Division and his 10 goals that season earned Casa Pia 15 points. 

Nation team renaissance on the cards

Despite falling out of favour with the national team, Godwin’s career has been closely tracked by the Nigerian press. After all it is hard to forget someone who was part of a World Cup winning team and with other players in that squad going on to bigger and better things Godwin has been criticised by some. His time in Belgium was seen as a massive failure with many considering it to be a “mecca” for young Nigerian players.

But now in Portugal things are changing and instead headlines are appearing such as “Saviour Godwin banging loudly on Super Eagles door.” This came after he had netted his second goal in the league this season. Filipe Martins’ Casa Pia have certainly made a splash in their return to the top flight and have caught the attention of many across Europe. Godwin’s contribution has been easy to see working extremely hard in both defence and attack.

He is direct, aggressive and not afraid to take anyone on including Nicolas Otamendi who struggled in a game which saw Benfica scrape through as victors back in September. You do see glimpses of Ronaldo in his flair, of Pedro in his quick thinking and of Victor Moses in his work ethic. 

It’s been a long journey for Saviour Godwin who started on top of the world, landed in Belgium, worked his way up in Portugal and has now been rewarded with his first senior cap for Nigeria in a friendly against Algeria. I really believe we’re seeing the second start to Godwin’s career, back in the national team set-up and showing his credentials in a top European league. 

by Barney Carter-Phillips

Fact File

Name: Saviour Amunde Godwin

Date of birth: 22 August 1996 (26 years old)

Place of birth: Jos, Nigeria

Position: Left winger

Previous clubs: Académie El-Kadme (Nigeria) | Oostende, KSV Roeselare (Belgium)

Current club: Casa Pia

2022/23 stats: 9 Games, 762 Mins, 2 Goals