Statistics and results were correct at the time of recording on April 7th.
One of the standout stories from this season has been Casa Pia’s incredible journey. Four seasons ago they were playing in the Campeonato do Portugal, last season they were promoted to the Primeira Liga for the first time in 83 years and now the club from Lisbon are enjoying a spectacular first season back in the top flight. At the time of writing, they sit in seventh position on 38 points, just three points off the European places. Defensively, only Benfica, Braga and Porto have kept more clean sheets than Filipe Martins’ side and their hard-working nature has gained plaudits across Portugal.
We spoke to Casa Pia and Nigeria attacker Saviour Godwin to get the lowdown on what makes Casa Pia so special.
The beginning of the journey
Prior to moving to Casa Pia, Godwin played for Belgian club KSV Roeselare for four seasons, making over 100 appearances but when the club fell into financial difficulty and eventual bankruptcy, the players were released from their contracts after Roeselare were denied their professional licence. His move to Casa Pia just a few months later was helped along by former Roeselare teammate and current Casa Pia defender Nermin Zolotić.
“I got an invitation from my friend (Nermin) Zolotić, he sent me a message that somebody spoke to him about me here at Casa Pia, I like Portugal also, I have a lot of friends who have played here in the past and they told me that this is a nice place for me to grow. I saw the opportunity and I took it!”
The 26-year-old enjoyed a fruitful first season at the club, he scored seven goals and provided five assists to help the club finish in ninth position in the Segunda Liga, a strong season for Os Gansos. The 2020/21 campaign was also significant as it was current manager Filipe Martins’ first season in charge. The ninth-placed finish was a solid foundation for Casa Pia to try and build on from the following season, what they would go on to do however, would end up in the history books of the club forever.
A second season to remember
After losing to Académico Viseu on the opening day of the Segunda Liga season and winning just one of their first three, few would have predicted the run they would embark on. The 4-2 win over Benfica B, a match in which Godwin scored a terrific hat-trick, was the launchpad for an incredible unbeaten run. Casa Pia went on a run of 13 matches across all competitions without defeat, winning 10 of those matches. By matchday 13, they were second in the Segunda Liga and soon there was a feeling that this season could be the one to see them promoted to the Primeira Liga for the first time since 1938/39.
“I think from the beginning of the season, the ambition was to work in every single game and every single training session to push to try and win every single game. At the beginning of the season, we had a lot of injuries and it was a little bit difficult but we are a group who wanted to fight for each game.”This automatically gave us the strength to go into each game with the ambition to win. It wasn’t an ambition that started in the middle of the season, or at the end of the season, it’s something we had right from the very beginning. The mentality was really nice and we had a really big group with a lot of players both with quality and potential.”
Fast forward to the last game of the season and Casa Pia knew that a win against Leixões would guarantee them an automatic promotion spot without the need for a promotion/relegation playoff against a side from the top flight. In a match with so much riding on it, with the amount of anxiety and nerves that both the supporters and staff must have felt, it would be understandable if it was to be a cagey, tense afternoon with not much action. Casa Pia, however, had other ideas. After 16 minutes, they were 3-0 up and in total control, by half-time, they were 4-0 up and at full-time they had won 5-1. An emphatic, rampant performance to send the club to the top flight in style.
“No one could explain where the fire and momentum came from on that day from the boys. We always had this from the beginning, we just had to do our things (on the pitch). It was an unbelievable day for us. We went there with the ambition to win because this is our life that we are fighting for. We knew full well that we would go down in the book of history at the club if we won this game. We fought and gave 100% and at the end of it we were crowned with victory.”
Something special about this club
One thing that has stood out about Casa Pia this season has been how hard they work for each other, they are a side built on defensive organisation, discipline and being a cohesive unit. Only Benfica, Braga and Porto have kept more clean sheets than Casa Pia’s 11 and their tally of 27 goals conceded is only bettered by the top four of Benfica, Porto, Braga and Sporting. The statistics show that players from all over the pitch contribute defensively too, Godwin has won 86 duels so far this season, ranking him fourth at the club in that metric.
“Casa Pia is a group that is like family. If your brother is hurt you won’t sit there and see him cry, you want to help him. This is reflected in the dressing room too, every player is close to each other so when we go onto the pitch it’s different vibes. We want to fight for every ball, to win every ball, to fight for each other. We have momentum that started right from when we were in the second division and we have carried it into the first division and it’s reflected on the pitch.”
For Casa Pia, such is their mentality and belief in one another, going 1-0 down or conceding an equaliser doesn’t seem to affect them much. As cliché as it may sound, they are a team who fights until the very last whistle. Against Portimonense, Antoine scored a dramatic 94th-minute winner after being pegged back to 1-1 in the first half. Just a few weeks later it happened again, this time against Santa Clara. This time it was Clayton who was on hand to score a 94th-minute winner. They also had to come from behind to beat Marítimo 2-1 and in both matches against Paços de Ferreira they found themselves 1-0 down, in both matches they completed comebacks (3-2 and 2-1).
“It’s such a strong group, we’ve got individual qualities and when it’s time to showcase them to help the team we will. I can speak about myself personally, I have the ability to change the game, so whether we’re 1-0 down, or 2-0 down it doesn’t matter because even in the dying moments of the game, I can take the ball and go 1v1 or 2v1 and flash the ball into the net. We have a lot of players with good quality who can also do this, at any time Casa Pia can score so conceding isn’t a problem.”
Filipe Martins and the importance of consistency
Manager Filipe Martins has been in charge of Os Gansos since September 2020 and in July 2022, he signed a fresh deal at the club until 2024. Saviour told us about the importance of stability and consistency and what it’s like to play under the Amadora-born coach.
“It’s been incredible to work under him. This club is a club that has consistency, starting from the second division we have always had a pattern, we all know how he wants us to play. This consistency of doing the same things over and over (to get it right) becomes a habit and then it reflects on the pitch automatically. It’s been really nice to work under him especially knowing what he wants from us.”
“The best way to defend is to attack, he (Martins) always tells us (the forwards) that we have to be like an extra player. Let the opponent see you as a twelfth man on the pitch. The strikers have to do double work, we have to support our midfielders and if needed we will also help out the defence and if we have the opportunity, because we have explosive players, we can counter-attack. (The structure) is really helping us.
His first goal in the Primeira Liga
With a draw against Santa Clara and a defeat against Benfica to start the season, Casa Pia went into their third match of the campaign looking for their first win since returning to the upper echelons of Portuguese football. They welcomed Boavista to the Estádio Nacional in Jamor, Casa Pia’s temporary home and in the 67th minute with his side under pressure defending a 1-0 lead, Godwin broke forward on the counter-attack, received an inch-perfect pass from Takahiro Kunimoto and slotted past Rafael Bracali.
“It has always been my desire, to have an opportunity to play in the Primeira Liga so when I got the opportunity to showcase my talent against Boavista, it was really nice to score my first goal. It made me so happy because I’ve been wanting this for a long time. It was really amazing plus the kind of goal it was was really nice to score.”
His favourite goal and style of play
“I think the goal I scored against Rio Ave is my favourite goal I’ve scored since I’ve been in Portugal! When I saw Clayton close to me, I immediately knew he was going to run and take the defender with him, so I dropped off to receive the ball. I know my strength is in 1v1’s so when I turned to face the defender, I know I’ve got a lot of advantage over any defender because of my pace and when I was in position and the goal was there, I had to shoot!”
Fulfilling a dream with the Super Eagles
After appearing for Nigeria’s U17, U20 and U23 teams throughout his career, Godwin was rewarded for his form at club level and given his debut for the Nigeria senior team at the end of September. Manager José Peseiro brought the attacker on in the second half for Ademola Lookman. The match ended 2-1 in Algeria’s favour but that didn’t tarnish Godwin’s experience of representing his national team.
“It had always been my dream (to represent Nigeria), it is the dream of every child growing up in Nigeria, Africa or anywhere else in the world to represent their nation. For me to have the opportunity to do so, it was a dream come true. To mix it up with the big boys, you know? Of course, it’s really amazing. I thought to myself, ‘What would my family be thinking if I get the chance to play, what would my friends be thinking? My club, my teammates?’. So to get this opportunity was a really big one, I gave 100% in training and I was crowned with the cap. I really want to work hard every single training session (for Casa Pia) so at any time if the opportunity comes again, I will be ready to represent my nation.”