We’re back with our series of articles that focuses on those lucky, and sometimes unlucky players who have donned the iconic number 9 shirt for our beloved Newcastle United, and this next inductee certainly divides opinion. The phrase “Not a great goal scorer, but a scorer of great goals” is a perfect fit for this lad, he possessed an absolute thunder-bastard of a strike, and was lightning fast, and a flipping good celebration. However, he could be a real frustration at times, I’m talking about none other than Obafemi Martins.
Oba was born in Lagos, Nigeria in October 1984, making him 37 now, not 25, which is often a running joke amongst our banter fuelled fan base. Martins caught the eye playing on the local streets of Lagos, and was signed by FC Ebedei, where he impressed with his pace and ability to get goals, it brought some of Europe’s top scouts to Nigeria to check Oba out. It wasn’t long until he was on the move, swapping his native country for a life in Italy, and with Serie C side A.C Reggiana snapped him up to their youth set up.
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He quickly impressed and earned a spot in the first team, after only a handful of appearances, and as is often the case, the bigger Serie A boys came calling, and Martins signed for Inter Milan in 2001 for £750k. It was at I Nerazzurri he’d really made his name. After smashing in 23 goals for the youth team he was given his first team debut in 2002, just a year after signing. Over the years he scored some vital, and special goals, right up to his departure in 2006. Martins grabbed a total of 28 goals in 88 appearances, he was much loved by the Inter fans, but needed a new challenge, and what bigger than taking Alan Shearer’s famous number 9 shirt at Newcastle United, following the legendary goal scorer’s retirement in April. Oba was Toon bound, and we were excited to see what we were getting.
He signed for us on the 26th of August 2006, for £13m, and he made his Toon debut against Aston Villa in a 2-0 defeat the day after he signed, unfortunately for Oba his debut didn’t exactly pull up any trees, unlike previous number 9’s, as he was stretched off with a dead leg. His then manager, the late Glen Roeder, assured fans we had a real player here and to stick with him. The speedster repaid Roeders faith in him, grabbing his first of a steady goal trail against West Ham on the 17th of September.
Such was Oba’s impressive tally of goals in his first season, there was rumours Chelsea wanted him in January that year, which was both rubbished by player and manager, the number 9 ended his first campaign with a total of 17 goals in 46 games, with some absolute screamers on the mix, his hit against Spurs a real stand out in particular, clocked at 84mph, wow!
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Oba’s second season was a bit less impressive, as Newcastle changed manager, with Big Sam Allardyce coming in, and preferring to play Michael Owen and Mark Viduka as a 2, Oba was trying to find his place back in the side, despite this he still managed to find the net when the chances came. Big Sam was later replaced by the returning Keegan that season, and KK managed to find a way to get the best out of all three of his strikers, playing Owen in a deeper role, which actually got the best out of the England man too. Oba finished his second season with a total of 10 in 33.
With Keegan returning, and the city bouncing, things seemed to be looking up for Oba and his Toon teammates going into the 2008/09 season, but as we all know this was to be a disastrous season for the club and for Martins. He started well, bagging 6 in 12, before a torn hamstring ruled him out several games, he then had to go under the knife in January for surgery on a hernia. His side missed him on the pitch, and despite Oba returning for the last two games, and scoring against Middlesbrough, it was too late, Newcastle United were relegated that season.
Oba was still at the club pre-season as we waited to begin life in the championship, and even played in that infamous 6-1 defeat to Leyton Orient. He was however sold shortly after that for £9m to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg. Oba left Tyneside with a total of 35 goals in 104 games. He would later return to English football, on loan with Birmingham City, where he’d win the league cup in 2011, scoring the winner in a 2-1 shock victory over Arsenal.
He’s still playing to this day in fact, currently turning out for Chinese side Wuhan, where he has 1 goal in 6 games, but It will be his time on Tyneside where he’ll be remembered the most, and amongst Newcastle fans the opinions on him are somewhat divided, some believe he was a dangerous striker, who scored some absolutely world class goals, others think he was too inconsistent, and should’ve done a lot more with the natural ability he had. Whatever side you sit on the Obafemi Martins debate, he sure made an impact during his time in the black and white. Thanks for the memories Oba!
Obafemi Martins United Goals
Martins 84mph strike 1:27 in
Chris Currie – @wig82