Club making most of tight budget
11 November ~ The career of Obafemi Martins may have stagnated in recent years but it should come as no surprise that he has rediscovered his goalscoring touch at Levante. Having returned to La Liga in 2010 after a couple of seasons in the second tier, the club are developing a reputation for resuscitating the careers of ailing strikers. Operating within a limited budget, they recruited Manchester City reject Felipe Caicedo on loan for 2010-11. Having scored seven goals in 12 games by December, he ended the season in double figures as Levante finished 14th.
A clause in his loan agreement allowed the club to sign him permanently for a relatively paltry £880,000 the following summer, with the intention of immediately selling him on for a significant profit. A month later, he departed to Lokomotiv Moscow for several times that sum.
Levante replaced Caicedo with Arouna Koné. The Ivory Coast international arrived on loan after a dismal four-year spell at Sevilla, where he scored only two goals in 49 games. Koné had been highly regarded at PSV and proved so successful at Levante that he was in danger of scoring too many goals. A clause in his deal stipulated that he would have to return to his parent club if he scored 18 goals, so having reached 17 he sat out the final few games of the season. Levante qualified for the Europa League by finishing sixth and Koné signed permanently. He was soon dispatched to Wigan for another tidy profit.
Martins arrived in September citing Levante's "ambition" as a significant factor in his signing, although their recent track record of regenerating flagging careers cannot have gone unnoticed. After an underwhelming spell at Rubin Kazan, it is unlikely that he was inundated with offers, scoring only five times in 35 appearances during his two years at the club. During this period, Martins spent the second half of the 2010-11 season on loan at Birmingham, a move motivated by the need to be near to his UK-based partner following the birth of their child. He scored the winning goal in the 2011 Carling Cup final and appeared six times for the club, missing the run-in due to a stress fracture of his left tibia. Birmingham were relegated, which cost Martins a potential £5 million permanent move.
Martins left his native Nigeria for Italy aged 16, joining Reggiana in 2000 before moving to Inter a year later. He won a Serie A title, plus both the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana twice, before the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hernán Crespo resulted in his sale to Newcastle in 2006. In a three-year spell at St James' Park he scored 35 goals in 104 games, moving to Wolfsburg when the club were relegated to the Championship in 2009. He lasted a single season in Germany, despite signing a four-year contract, before departing for Russia.
Martins made an instant impact on his debut in Spain, scoring a late winner as Levante came from behind to beat Real Sociedad 2-1. Having joined the club less than 48 hours earlier, he was introduced at half-time with Sociedad leading, and the 86th minute he smashed in a low drive to complete Levante's comeback and earn three points. He also scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against neighbours Valencia, controlling a long ball up field before drilling into the roof of the net.
A fourth win in all competitions arrived with the 3-1 defeat of Granada where Martins scored a brace, recording his third and fourth goals in five games. Levante currently occupy fifth place in La Liga and are currently second in the Europa League's Group L, a point behind leaders Hannover and four ahead of Twente in third.
After a turbulent few years – his mother died in a car crash in 2008 and his brother passed away last year after a heart attack – Martins was due some good fortune. Should his form continue a return to the Nigerian national side is likely ahead of next year's African Cup of Nations, after a two-year international absence. He will also be safe in the knowledge that Levante are a club that will welcome interest, should a team from the upper echelons of football offer Martins the chance to grace the highest level once more. Scott Johnson