Martins breaks ranks to attack Allardyce reign

Ghana,Jonathan Wilson
Sunday 27 January 2008 01:00 GMT
Martins is at the African Nations Cup with Nigeria
Martins is at the African Nations Cup with Nigeria (AP)

It is the body language as much as the words that tell the story. Obafemi Martins did his best to be diplomatic but he made it clear enough that, while others celebrate the arrival of Kevin Keegan at Newcastle, he is relieved at the departure of Sam Allardyce. "I don't like talking against people," the Nigeria centre-forward said, "but if something is not right, you have to change it."

As far as he was concerned, something was very definitely not right at St James' Park. "I cannot say I have good memories [of my time under Allardyce]," he said, "but I cannot say I have bad memories. If the manager's not doing very well, of course they will let him go. That's life – it's like that. If the fans don't want him there, he shouldn't be there."

Martins began the season in fine style, scoring two within half an hour as Newcastle won 3-1 at Bolton, but he was substituted midway through the second half, a move that for him set a depressing pattern. Although he has featured in 21 Premier League games this season, Martins has played the full 90 minutes in only five and, while he has managed a total of seven goals in all competitions, he has not scored since 8 December.

"I think I should have played more," he said. "A centre-forward is there to score goals... and since I was not playing, I was not that happy. I don't know why he didn't pick me. He wanted to play some other players: that was his choice. I never talked to the manager. I never knew anything."

He was not happy either in the role in which Allardyce used him. "We have good players who can play, but when I am playing on the right wing it makes it difficultto play. I think that's why we weren't playing that good."

While the local media on Tyneside can be demanding, it is nothing compared to the Nigerian press corps. With defeat to Ivory Coast in the opening game leaving Nigeria facing an embarrassingly early elimination from the African Nations Cup, Martins again finds himself in an underperforming side facing disgruntled fans. This time, though, the attention is more personal. In Africa it's different," he said. "If the players aren't doing well, they don't blame the coach, they blame the players. In Europe it's totally different; if players aren't doing well, they blame the coach."

Nigeria have not won the Cup since 1994 – they have been third at each of the past three tournaments. "The problem is that Nigerians want the Cup so much that there is great pressure right now."

The parallels with Newcastle, without a domestic trophy since 1955, are obvious. Only a hugely charismatic figure could handle such expectation, and Martins is optimistic that Keegan is that man. "Everybody loves Keegan," he said, "especially the fans."

Those fans are unlikely to be elated by Keegan's admission last night that he does not expectto sign Jonathan Woodgate, despite agreeing a fee for the defender with Middlesbrough.

Tottenham, who have also been given permission to talk to Woodgate, 28, are now favourites to sign him for a fee thought to be £8 million. Keegan said: "I don't think he's going to come to Newcastle. I'm almost certain he's going to move somewhere else – it looks like we've lost him and I'm very disappointed."

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