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Profiling the club career of Obafemi Martins

As the veteran Nigerian forward returns to Shanghai Shenhua after two years away from the game, we reflect on the life and career of Obafemi Martins.

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Obafemi Akinwunmi Martins was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to Alhaji and Alhaja Martins. He, his parents and his six siblings lived in a small slum village, Orile-Iganmu, in a house crammed between a church and a hospital.

Whilst playing for a few cents at the local boys’ club in his neighbourhood, Martins was spotted by Churchill Oliseh, father of ex-Juventus midfielder and Nigeria boss, Sunday Oliseh. Churchill managed FC Ebedei, a local team, who signed Martins up straight away after seeing his power and technical ability.

After successful teenage years, Martins and his Ebedei teammate, future Lazio striker Stephen Makinwa, were scouted by Italian side Reggiana and made the switch to Europe to play for their youth team.

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It is safe to say that Martins has been the more successful of the duo. The Nigerian made a move 100 miles away to Lombardy, signing for Inter Milan under new manager Héctor Cúper. Taking a few years to cut his teeth, Martins’ breakout season with the Nerazzurri came in 2003/04, netting seven goals under Cúper and his successor Alberto Zaccheroni.

During the following campaign, Martins really began to show off his talents. He scored 11 goals for the Italian giants and followed up with nine in the following campaign. However, Martins always found himself in the shadow of an elite striker during his time at Inter Milan.

During his breakout year, Christian Vieri scored more than him. The following season it was Adriano and the third season, Argentine attacker Julio Cruz netted 15 as the side won Serie A.

It was almost a case of “always the bridesmaid and never the bride” for the African. This was the perfect opportunity for a club gunning for European football to take a punt on a young player with great goalscoring capabilities. That club happened to be Newcastle United.

The Magpies shelled out €15m on Obafemi Martins, handing him the no.9 shirt and the task of replicating the man who previously wore the number – Alan Shearer, who had retired at the end of the previous campaign.

Injury troubles and patchy form saw the striker maligned by sections of the Newcastle faithful and the consensus amongst many was that he wasn’t up to the task. However, by the end of his first season with the Magpies, the former Inter man had notched 11 goals and was causing many a Geordie to swallow their words.

After impressing in his first season on Tyneside, rumours flew of Chelsea swooping for him. These were rubbished by the man himself and his manager, Glenn Roeder. During his second campaign, new boss Sam Allardyce used Martins differently.

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The ex-Bolton manager preferred Michael Owen and/or Mark Viduka, often employing Martins as a super sub. However, he did excel in this role and still managed to score nine league goals. His following season saw him rack up six goals in the opening few months of the season, only to spend the majority of its remainder dogged by hamstring injuries.

He was still joint top scorer (along with Michael Owen) but little could be done to save the Magpies from relegation in what was a chaotic season for the side. Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer all had spells as manager with caretaker boss Chris Hughton stepping up in between.

Despite voicing his desire to return Newcastle to the Premier League, Martins set off for a new start abroad in July 2009. This time, the Nigerian moved to northwestern Germany, teaming up with manager Armin Veh at VfL Wolfsburg.

In his first game, the striker came on as a substitute and had the perfect debut, assisting a goal and scoring a superb solo effort to win the game 3-1.

His spell in Germany was to be short-lived. Martins scored seven goals in 25 appearances in Lower Saxony, but, yet again, saw himself play second fiddle to established players at the club. He was only the side’s fourth top goalscorer behind future Man City star Edin Džeko and cult hero Grafite.

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He moved to Russia with Rubin Kazan in July 2010 and failed to settle again. In January 2011, Martins was loaned to Birmingham City, asking to be closer to his newborn child who was to live in England.

Martins will be remembered as a hero by fans of the Blues, having scored the winning goal against Arsenal in the final of the 2011 League Cup. Sadly for Birmingham fans, Martins was sidelined for much of his time back in England, only managing two goals in six appearances.

He returned to Rubin Kazan and was troubled by persistent injury and a failure to maintain his goalscoring. A short and uninspiring spell in Spain with Levante followed

Like many a struggling player from Europe due to enter his thirties, Obafemi Martins made the switch to MLS to play for Seattle Sounders. In Washington, the Nigerian teamed up with the likes of DeAndre Yedlin, Djimi Traoré and Clint Dempsey.

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Martins shone in the States, scoring 43 goals in 84 games for the club; on average, more than a goal every other game. He was also featured in the MLS Best XI in 2014 as well as MLS Goal of the Year for a tight-angled strike against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Another country known for welcoming players in the twilights of their careers is China. Obafemi Martins followed the trend in 2016, switching to Shanghai Shenhua. Despite scoring a number of goals, Martins was, yet again, second best. Demba Ba, formerly of Newcastle and Chelsea, excelled in Shanghai at the same time and the likes of Fredy Guarin and Giovanni Moreno were also top scorers during this era.

Following a number of injury problems, Martins left Shanghai Shenhua in 2018. By 2019, the Nigerian’s injuries had worsened but he later expressed his desire to return to football.

On 15 July 2020, over two after his departure, Shanghai Shenhua announced Martins’ return, citing Odion Ighalo’s extended Manchester United loan as the reason behind his shock comeback.

How will Obafemi Martins fare in the next Chinese Super League season?

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‘Outside The Box’ – new episode

I am proud to announce that the first episode of TOB’s ‘Outside The Box’ podcast is now available! The video footage of the Zoom call can be found on our official YouTube account and you can listen to the audio on usual podcast platforms such as Spotify as well as Deezer, Podchaser, Spreaker and Podcast Addict. I am still awaiting approval from Apple Podcasts but I’m hoping we should be live on there shortly.

The first episode features David Astill, an analytical football writer for ‘Total Football Analysis’. David, who has recently become Site Lead for sister site ‘Total Rugby Analysis’ was a brilliant first guest, very articulate, easy to speak to and had brilliant insight into the world of football stats and analysis.

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PS: I said the podcast would be weekly on the show but it’s actually monthly. As you can tell, I am still a little rusty as I’ve not podcasted since March and had never actually used Zoom before this!

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