Obafemi Martins' Nigeria recall spurred by MLS success with Sounders

A grand total of two games is all Obafemi Martins has been asked to play for Nigeria since the 2010 World Cup.

For a man who scored 18 goals in his previous 37, that is an injustice. But to anyone familiar with the workings of Nigerian football, it will come as no surprise. Players are unceremoniously allowed to fade away into the sunset. Some who try to resist are even pushed.

With Martins, he went away quietly, but has allowed his feet -- and the fans -- to fight his very worthy cause. It is a battle that all concerned hope will prove to be worth the effort. But Martins' story is about more than just football.

A few hours after Nigeria's Super Eagles had won a home game during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, Martins came down the elevator on his way out, only to be surrounded by a crowd of hangers-on. As usual, they wanted him to "bless" them. By the time he was done, his $5000 winning bonus was down to just over $1000 and he had to be rescued from the crowd by a combination of close friends and hotel security.

It is just one small incident, but one which goes to show that 'Omo Alhaja' has a heart as big as his feet are lethal.

That it has taken over two years for Martins to get a recall to the Nigeria squad is not only an injustice, but reflects poorly on the Nigeria selection process. And it is not just about his generosity, but the extra edge he brings to what has been a turgid forward line the past few years.

Martins is quicker than any of the forwards in Nigeria's current front-line bar Ahmed Musa. His balance is phenomenal, his skill magical, his technique exquisite and his finish always world-class.

Plus, as the stats show, his international goals-to-games ratio is a healthy .45, which ranks behind only Nigeria legends Rashidi Yekini (.64) and Segun Odegbami (.47), and is tied with Julius Aghahowa.

To be fair, at the time Martins was left out, it was not an entirely bad decision. The national team is not a rehabilitation ground for players. A coach may keep faith with off-form players only so long, and in Oba's case, the forward was at a crossroads in his career. He was struggling at club level, and looked nowhere near motivated enough nor playing at a high enough level to be called up for international football.

At the same time, Stephen Keshi had just taken over as Nigeria coach and was coming to grips with the rebuilding process that lay in front of him. Certain players, for various reasons, needed to make room for others. Martins was one of those.

Then the new team went to the African Nations Cup and won the title. Things looked decidedly grim for the players who had been locked out. And so it proved. Despite rediscovering himself with a move to the Seattle Sounders and MLS, Martins got only one more call-up. That came in a 2013 game where he was starved of service and looked a long way from the deadly striker who used to be among the first names on the lineup.

Oba is one of those players who thrives when he has a song in his heart. Toward those latter stages with Nigeria, it seemed pulling on the green and white jersey had become a chore. Since then, however, Oba has got his head in the right place, appears to be living a good life in the USA, has become a father and is enjoying his football again.

That has translated to some amazing numbers on the pitch, with the Nigerian leading the MLS in a long line of efficient metrics, including an astonishing .78 goals per game average.

If the national team is not a rehabilitation ground for off-form players, clearly it is a place for players showing high-quality form for their clubs. And Martins has been doing that for the past couple of years, which made his continued exclusion more than a tad baffling. Especially with the Super Eagles struggling for goals, a deficiency which contributed to their inability to qualify for the 2015 African Nations Cup.

Sunday Oliseh, who took over from Keshi and immediately declared he would pick only in-form players playing regularly in top divisions, wasn't expected to look across the Atlantic for Martins.

His apparently skepticism about the MLS meant the forward had to wait a little longer and notch a few more goals under his belt as Oliseh juggled Anthony Ujah, Odion Ighalo and Emmanuel Emenike. It is even possible that the shocking retirement of Emenike may have played a part in opening the door for the 31-year-old.

Whatever the circumstances, the one certainty is that Martins' recall is long overdue. And if he gets the service he needs from teammates, his latter years might prove more prolific than his earlier ones.