Good news, bad news with Seattle’s ever-closer Obafemi Martins signing

8 Comments

Here’s the good news about Obafemi Martins, if you’re a Seattle Sounder fan:

The move is almost done. Reportedly, the sides have agreed to terms on a contract that will pay the former Nigerian international $2.5 million per season. Bonuses can take up to $3.5 million. It’s a huge commitment from Seattle at a time when fans were starting to wonder if the gate receipts would translate into an expanded payroll. If the numbers prove true, only three players (Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Robbie Keane) would make more than Martins. Whether that salary’s justified or not, that’s a whole new level of commitment.

This guy will also be a great fit with Eddie Johnson. Short, quick, with the ability to burst onto a ball, the 28-year-old is a good complement for somebody whose physicality demands so much attention. You can already see Martins surging onto balls Johnson’s elevated to win. When Johnson pushes the defense in the attacking phase, Martins will be free to poach or exploit space along the line. All the things Martins lacks — size, physicality, and (often) intensity — Johnson can provide, and with the skill in Seattle’s midfield (especially the wide-to-in contributions of Mauro Rosales), Sigi Schmid won’t have to worry if Martins’ ability to link play falls short of Fredy Montero’s.

As far as goals, the tandem could be potent. Both players have Golden Boot-level talent. Their individual threats will prevent opposing defenses from focusing on one man. With two of the league’s top scoring in the same XI, all of Seattle’s potential scoring problems disappear.

Martins can be a game-changing acquisition. If he clicks, he’ll be an All-Star, threaten Seattle’s club record for goals, and help give the Sounders their best chance to win MLS Cup.

But just like any other purchase, there’s an element of risk here. Martins’ acquisition carries more than most.

Martins will leave Levante on a bad note, publicly deriding his club as he’s sprinted for the door. It’s an approach that only reinforces the impressions the attacker’s left while leaving five clubs since 2006 (Levante would be the sixth). A once promising player for Inter Milan, Martins’ professional existence has become defined by transience. The Nigerian has played in England, Germany, Russia, and Spain since 2009.

That club uncertainty hasn’t helped Martins’ place for his national team. When Stephen Keshi remade the Nigerian national team, electing not to call in a series of veterans who had come to symbolize the Super Eagles’ malaise, Martins’ international career was put on hold. Despite 18 goals in 38 international appearances, Martins was deemed surplus to Keshi’s requirements.

He wasn’t the only one. Yakubu Ayegbeni, Peter Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo were also left out. Despite the exclusion of four players who have combined for 203 international appearances, Keshi’s more selective Nigeria went on to claim their first Cup of Nations since 1994.

A less nebulous concern may be Martins’ actual production. It’s been over five years since Martins posted double-digit goals in a league season. Between stops at Newcastle, Wolfsburg, Rubin Kazan, Birmingham City and Levante, Martins has put up one goal every 3.2 games.

And if you’re a Seattle fan, you can’t help but remember what happened with Blaise Nkufo. Christian Tiffert is still on the payroll, for now (he’ll have to be bought out to make room for Martins). Even with a past free of controversy, a player might not adjust to a move across the world. Like any other player, Martins could fail to make the adjustment.

With Seattle Sporting Director Chris Henderson said to be in Spain finalizing the deal, Martins looks likely to come. For the organization, it’s a huge commitment for a player that has the talent to make Seattle’s attack the most dangerous in Major League Soccer. Maybe Martins represents a bigger gamble than other organizations might like, but for a team that’s committed to taking the next step — to going beyond last year’s conference final appearance — he could also be the missing piece.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly.

Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United. “Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?”

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.