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Martins facts

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It was Churchill Oliseh who first thought that the lightning-fast striker whose performances in the colours of FC Ebideh had become the talk of his home town might possess talents worthy of a much bigger stage.

 

It was 2000 and the elder brother of Nigerian international Sunday Oliseh had found himself captivated by the breathtaking pace of a teenager whose thoughts had long been consumed by dreams of sporting stardom.

 

As his peers prepared to sit their West African Educational Certificate examinations, Obafemi Martins boarded a plane for northern Italy, his newly-appointed agent having arranged a trial for his 16-year-old protege at AC Reggiana, the club at which his celebrated sibling had experienced his first taste of European football six years earlier.

 

Initially uncertain, a young man whose time with Mungo Park Boys Club seemed a lifetime ago has rarely looked back. As he prepares to sample Premiership action for the first time this weekend, Martins must consider those difficult days as the making of a commendable career.

 

"I wasn't happy going to Reggiana because I had left Nigeria at a crucial time in my educational career," recalled the 21-year-old shortly after joining Internazionale following just one highly-successful season at Stadio Giglio.

 

 

"But the dream I had was becoming a reality and I was not going to let it slip away from me. I knew I was paying a high price but some opportunities do not come around twice.

 

"I cried on my first day training at Reggiana because I felt that I didn't do well and that I had failed not only myself but my agent as well. My team-mates felt otherwise.

 

"The physio there said that it was the cold weather that had affected me and I had never felt that kind of cold before. But my patience paid off because, as soon as I adapted to the harsh weather conditions, I was a different player. Ever since then I have never doubted my ability to survive and to make a bold statement to my critics."

 

The fifth of seven children growing up in the Orile Iganmu district of Lagos, Martins had dreamt of becoming a professional footballer for much of his young life and was never going to allow the biting cold of an Emilia-Romagna winter hamper his progress.

 

Showing a burning desire and dedication that characterises his career, he made an immediate impact in the Italian game.

 

In a single season playing in Reggiana's youth team, the ambitious African showed enough promise to persuade Inter to invest 750,000 euros (£507,122) in his services in 2001.

 

Having scored 23 goals in his maiden campaign at the San Siro to help the Nerazzuri's youngsters claim the Italian Under-18s championship in style, he had rapidly established himself as one of the finest prospects in the European game.

 

With head coach Hector Cuper an obvious admirer, Martins made his Serie A debut on December 22, 2002 as an Inter team that included Emre triumphed 2-1 at Parma.

 

A 45-minute appearance as a substitute against Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle side at the San Siro four months later was only his third taste of senior action in Inter colours, but already his talents were obvious.

 

It was during that Champions League campaign that Martins first demonstrated his predatory prowess, scoring against Bayer Leverkusen to seal qualification for the competition's last eight and repeating the feat in a tense all-Milanese semi-final, although the latter game ended in bitter disappointment as the Rossoneri qualified for the final on the away goals rule following a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Meazza.

 

After his memorable strike at the BayArena, Martins first demonstrated his spectacular somersault celebration routine, a gymnastic feat of which Lomana LuaLua would be proud and one that gained worldwide exposure as part of Uefa's official Champions League promotional campaign. His footballing skills were no less polished.

 

Although Cuper departed the San Siro in 2003, Martins continued to progress under the guidance of Corrado Verdelli, Alberto Zaccheroni and Roberto Mancini.

 

As he put his explosive pace to good use (Martins, a useful long jumper, can also run 100m in just 11 seconds), he established himself as an Internazionale favourite, a player capable of leaving supporters on the edge of their seats.

 

He grew adept at helping his side engineer the positive results demanded by their followers.

 

It was one such success - a 3-0 defeat of Arsenal in the Champions League at Highbury three years ago next month - that highlighted his talents to a new audience and a clutch of English admirers, Glenn Roeder among them, who have monitored his career with interest ever since.

 

His record in international football is phenomenal and a striker who has scored 11 times in just 14 appearances for the Super Eagles was part of the team that finished third in the African Cup of Nations in Egypt this year.

 

Big news in Nigeria, Martins has already achieved much of that he aspired to as a young child kicking a ball on the streets of Orile Iganmu and is still only 21.

 

A man who has never forgotten his modest roots, Martins returned to Lagos last summer to host a football clinic as part of an initiative organised by the Nigerian FA.

 

Around 100 children gathered to hear their idol discuss his humble beginnings and talk of the discipline needed to become a sporting success story. In Newcastle's new No 9, they could have no better example.

 

Martins factfile

 

1984: Born October 28 in Lagos, Nigeria

 

1998: Started his football career with hometown club FC Ebedei.

 

2000: Joins Reggiana AC, an Italian Serie C team.

 

2001: Signed by Internazionale for 750,000 euros.

 

2002: June - Wins Italian Championship with Inter's youth team. Scored 23 goals and was elected best player of the tournament's play-off phase.

 

December - Makes Serie A debut at the age of 18 in a 2-1 win against Parma.

 

2003: March - Becomes the youngest Inter player to have scored in European cup competitions with his goal against Bayer Leverkusen.

 

December - Named African Young Footballer of the Year.

 

2004: May - Scores on his Nigeria debut, a friendly game against Ireland.

 

2005: June - Wins Coppa Italia with Inter.

 

December - Extends his Internazionale contract by two years to June 2010.

 

2006: February - Member of the Nigerian team that reached the African Cup of Nations semifinals in Egypt.

 

August - Joins Newcastle from Inter in £10m deal.

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"I cried on my first day training at Reggiana because I felt that I didn't do well and that I had failed not only myself but my agent as well. My team-mates felt otherwise.

 

"The physio there said that it was the cold weather that had affected me and I had never felt that kind of cold before. But my patience paid off because, as soon as I adapted to the harsh weather conditions, I was a different player. Ever since then I have never doubted my ability to survive and to make a bold statement to my critics."

 

 

The poor lad will be feeling suicidal now then,as for the cold...welcome to the north east

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