x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fading star Martins is Levante's leading light

With no future at Kazan, the club signed him for free on a two-year contract – an incredible feat given his pedigree.

Obafemi Martins celebrated all of his four goals with an elaborate backflip.
Obafemi Martins celebrated all of his four goals with an elaborate backflip.

A year ago, Levante sat at the top of Spain's Primera Liga with seven wins and two draws from nine league games. Given that Valencia's second side were relegation favourites, everyone expected the bubble to burst. And it did.

Levante lost four of their next five, yet the incredible start helped them finish sixth and qualify for European football for the first time in their history.

That was a selling point when Levante approached the Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins last month, just two years after the Russian side Rubin Kazan paid €17 million (Dh81.2m) for his signature. The move did not work out for the 28 year old or Kazan.

He played only 20 times for the club before moving to Birmingham City on loan.

There, he scored the winning goal in the 2011 League Cup final against Arsenal, before returning to Russia.

With no future at Kazan, Levante signed him for free on a two-year contract - an incredible feat given his pedigree playing for Inter Milan and Newcastle United, whom he cost €15m in 2006 and became the first man to wear No 9 shirt since Alan Shearer.

Previously, he had left Newcastle for the German side Wolfsburg, who paid €9m for the fast, direct and powerful striker in 2009.

Levante have previous experience in catching still-youthful falling stars and re-igniting their careers, having signed the Ecuadorean striker Felipe Caicedo for just €1m from Manchester City in 2010. They sold him for €7.5m to Lokomotiv Moscow less than a year later.

They also took the Ivorian striker Arouna Kone on loan last season, four years after Sevilla paid €12m for him.

He had scored just one goal for Sevilla in that time, but he was so successful at Levante they had to rest him because he was scoring too many goals and Sevilla were about to recall him.

Martins has been an immediate hit, scoring four goals in five games and, ever the showman, celebrating each with an elaborate backflip.

One was the winner in the Valencian derby, another sealed victory against Real Sociedad. On Sunday, he scored two against Granada in a 3-1 win - not a bad way to celebrate his 28th birthday.

With three consecutive wins, Levante are up to sixth.

They have also won two of their three Europa League games so far thanks in part to their latest cut-price star.

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