Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.

Obafemi Martins

Sounders' Martins

Image: Mike Russell

Few players in the MLS are as exciting as Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins. The 31-year-old has seemingly journeyed through every major European league before settling down in the Pacific Northwest.

All the Way to Italy

Obafemi Martins’ soccer career began at the age of 15 when he joined Nigerian club FC Ebedei’s youth academy. After just one year in Nigerian football, the pacey striker made the move to Europe. Still just 16, Martins joined Serie C side A.C. Reggiana’s academy system during the 2000 campaign. Just like at Ebedei, Martins’ stay at Reggiana was short lived.

The teenager managed to appear twice for Reggiana’s first team squad, but bigger clubs were calling. Italian powerhouse Inter Milan provided the Nigerian with yet another chance to move clubs and further his development on the pitch. It would take two years playing for Inter’s youth squads before Martins finally suited up for Héctor Cúper’s first team.

During the 2002/03 season, Martins’ long awaited debut for Inter finally materialized. In his first partial season with the senior squad, the striker would appear ten times between Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia. In those limited appearances, the teenager scored three goals including a late equalizer against arch-rivals AC Milan in the Champions League semifinals.

The following year, Martins’ involvement with the first team continued to grow. The 20-year-old made a career-best 25 league appearances during his first full professional season. With the increased playing time, Martins also recorded a career-high with ten goals between the league and Europe, but he was unable to help Inter push for any silverware as they crashed out of the both the Champions League and UEFA Cup (now known as the Europa League) before finishing fourth domestically.

For the 2004/05 season, Martins would have to adjust to a new manager as Roberto Mancini took over the club in July. The striker seemed to fit right into Mancini’s playing style as he went on to appear 45 times for his new manager that season. Through those 40+ appearances, Martins more than doubled his goal tally from the previous year by scoring 22 (11 of those coming in league play). The momentous season also ended with Martins’ first professional trophy as Inter claimed the Coppa Italia, its first domestic trophy since 1989.

Despite his relatively good form for Inter, 2005/06 would wind up being Martins last year at the San Siro. He was unable to match his unbelievable 22 goals from the previous year, netting just 13 times across 43 appearances. However, the 22-year-old had his most successful year-to-date in terms of silverware as Inter claimed the Serie A title, a second consecutive Coppa Italia and also the Italian Supercup.

From San Siro to St. James

Newcastle's Obafemi Martins

The introduction of Hernán Crespo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the club over the summer all but pushed Martins out of the Inter first team. After six successful years in Italy, it was finally time for the Nigerian to find a new home once again. The next stop in his nomadic journey across Europe: Newcastle United. The Magpies brought in the Inter striker for a reported fee of €15 million and was given Alan Shearer’s historic number nine for his first season in the English north.

After being pushed out of the starting 11 in Italy, Martins was almost immediately made the centerpiece of Newcastle’s attack on his return from injury. Out of the club’s 38 matches in the league, Martins started 32 and subbed on for one more. Martins also finished as the club’s top goal scorer with 11 tallies in the league (including this thunderbolt vs. Tottenham) and 23 between all competitions and he also helped his new club win UEFA’s Intertoto Cup.

In his sophomore season at St. James’ Park, Martins saw his role under new boss Sam Allardyce dwindle. The Nigerian striker appeared to be the third choice upfront behind England legend Michael Owen and Mark Viduka. Before the Christmas break, the 23-year-old started just 12 times, while earning most of his playing time coming off the bench. A disappointing run of form from the club, however, led to Allardyce getting sacked with Kevin Keegan being brought in to replace him.

Keegan’s introduction at the helm saw Martins’ role in the squad increase. However, a slow start to the season meant that Martins would make just 31 appearances (23 starts). Despite the decrease in playing time, Martins was still able to finish second on the team in goals with nine while registering three assists along the way.

Similarly to his time at Inter Milan, Martins’ stint at Newcastle would come to an end after just three full years at the club. In his final campaign for the Magpies, Martins made just 24 appearances, but once again he was able to finish second on the team in goals with eight strikes. A torn hamstring curtailed what could have been a statement year from the striker, but it was all for not as the club suffered a shocking relegation to the English Championship.

Finding a Home

Over the next four seasons, Martins would play for four different teams, in four different leagues across Europe. First, the striker spent a year in Germany with VfL Wolfsburg where he would make just 16 appearances and score six goals (his lowest tally since 2004).

After a disappointing stint in the Bundesliga, Martins moved again, this time to Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. The Nigerian striker made 12 league appearances for Kazan before being loaned to Birmingham City for the second half of the season. The highlight of his brief return to English competition came in the final of the Capital One Cup against Arsenal. After coming on as a substitute for the final ten minutes of the match, Martins pounced on a disastrous error from Wojciech Szczesny in the dying moments of the match to score the winning goal and give Birmingham City its first piece of silverware since 1995.

Another injury in the closing stages of his brief time with Rubin Kazan once again hindered Martins ability to impress on the pitch. After just one year at Rubin Kazan/Birmingham, Martins moved to Spain, joining Levante. In the Spanish top flight, Martins racked up his highest number of appearances since his Newcastle days playing in 21 matches. His one full year with the Spanish club also saw him score a team high seven goals.

Welcome to Seattle

Sounders' Obafemi Martins flips

Image: USA Today Sports

In March of 2013, Major League Soccer announced that the Seattle Sounders had agreed to pay Martins’ buyout clause at Levante to bring him stateside. Upon his arrival in the Northwest, the European journeyman was an immediate hit amongst the Sounders’ boisterous fans. Despite signing months after the start of the season, the Nigerian forward appeared 20 times for his new club, scoring eight times and assisting four more. A three-game span early on his Seattle career, saw Martins score in three straight games. The introduction of Martins into the squad was unable to push the Sounders to the MLS Cup, however, as they fell to Portland in the conference semifinals.

The following year, Martins set club records for most goals and assists in a single season (17/13). These impressive statistics earned him runner-up honors in the MVP voting where he fell just behind Robbie Keane. The 30-year-old had quickly established a reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the league, and his impressive play in attack alongside Clint Dempsey helped the Sounders claim the U.S. Open Cup, and also the MLS Supporters’ Shield (best record at the end of the regular season).

This season, the Nigerian striker has retained his role as the Sounders’ lead man in attack, and his growing partnership with Dempsey has yielded a combined 25 goals. A victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs has earned the Martins and the Sounders a place in the conference semifinals. Can he finally win a league title in his new home?

International Career

Obafemi Martins has been a part of the Nigerian international team since 2004. After beaking through at Inter Milan, the striker helped his nation finish third in the African Cup of Nations in 2006. Controversy within the Nigerian FA about Martins’ age and an unexcused absence from the team has limited the strikers’ chance to showcase his skills on the international level. Despite the drama, the striker was able to represent Nigeria in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but failed to score in either of his substitution appearances. His impressive form with the Sounders this year has earned Martins his first international call-up in two years.

Style of Play

Have I mentioned the Obafemi Martins is fast? Because he really is fast. This unmatched pace makes the Nigerian nearly impossible to defend in the league, and his creativity on the ball provides fans with countless moments of excitement in wonder. Perhaps his most impressive goal came during the 2014 season against San Jose. His wondrous chip left not just MLS fans, but fans across the globe in awe and reminded everyone that even at 30+ years of age, Obafemi Martins can still amaze.


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