Obafemi Martins still doing it in China at 33
It was 27 February 2011, in the 89th minute of the Capital One Cup final. The game was tied at 1. Obafemi Martins broke Arsenal fans' hearts with a poachers effort that extended Arsenal's six-year trophy drought. Fast forward six years, Obafemi Martins is still breaking hearts, now in China.
When Shanghai Shenhua were paired with Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese FA Cup pundits could only predict one winner: overly expensive SIPG. Those pundits failed to account for a deadly weapon in Shenhua's ranks: Obafemi Martins.
Dubbed Obagoal by his legion of fans in and from West Africa, Martins' nomadic career has been associated with moments of brilliance in seven countries on four continents. He has represented his native Super Eagles, played in Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga, and Premier League in Europe, MLS in North America, and now the Chinese Super League in Asia.
Aged 16, Obafemi left Western Nigeria for Italy in 2000. He had passed a trial with Serie C side, A.C. Reggiana. Soon enough he was spotted by Inter Milan. Six successful years would follow. Martins won a Scudetto, Coppa Italia, and Supercoppa Italiana with the Nerazzurri.
He moved Tyneside in 2006, joining Newcastle United. No winners medals were forthcoming with Toon, but Martins made his mark. Big money moves to Rubin Kazan and VFL Wolfsburg followed in 2009 and 2010 respectively. He later moved back to England, where he would help Birmingham win their first trophy since 1963 (54 years) in the League Cup. Martins then had spells with Levante in Spain and Seattle Sounders in the US before transferring to China where he still makes things happen.
At 33, most players are already planning their retirement. Not Martins. The Nigerian is still very much in the mix in the Far East.
This season, Obagoal contributed seven goals in 13 appearances for Shenhua, helping them to an 11th-place finish in the 16-team Super League. Admittedly, better was expected. Still, the "Flower of Shanghai" can pride itself on finishing the season with silverware, more than SIPG’s multimillion-pound squad can say for themselves.
The Chinese take their FA Cup no less seriously than English football fans do theirs, these days, perhaps more.The elite knockout competition in China is keenly contested by teams in the lower and higher division of Chinese football. The final is a two-legged contest in which the semifinal winners play each other home and away.
Martins emerged the top scorer in this year’s tournament with six goals. The Lagos native scored in both legs of the final. The first gave Shenhua a 1-0 home win. The second, as is his wont, was a stunner that helped seal a 3-3 aggregate victory for the underdogs.
At 33, Obafemi Martins is proving that aged wine tastes better, just as Zlatan Ibrahimović did with Manchester United last season. Back home in Nigeria, calls are being made for Martins to be included in Nigeria’s world cup contingent. With the form he showed to finish the season in China, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.