The Indian I-League, although not by any means comparable to its European counterparts, nevertheless does have its exciting moments brought on by some of the finest imported players from around the world.
Among the most important players in that league is Nigerian Ranti Martins who has led the goal scorers’ chart for the past two seasons as a striker for Goa-based Dempo Sports. The well-built 25 year-old striker has been in that country for eight years and for the last two seasons he has been breaking goal scoring records.
Martins scored 30 goals in the 2010-11 season which was a record and then improved that record to 32 goals this past season as he led Dempo to win the I-League. “Though I always had my reservations about India when the idea was mooted to me by my mentor – Abdullahi Alausa, of the Leventis FC of Ibadan fame, but now by God’s grace I am doing great there,” said Martins.
Alausa, a Ghanaian by birth, was the agent that also transferred former Nigerian international Musa Yaro Yaro to Borussia Dortmund, a transfer that turned out to have been contracted on slavish terms. “He took me straight out of secondary school and my first port of call was Ghana. At that time, I just wanted to be a professional footballer and since [Alausa] was having problems in Nigeria, he said the best thing to do was first of all move to Ghana.
“I will always love and obey him as he is both a mentor and a father to me. I know that all he wants for me is success and today by God’s grace, I am succeeding.
The Indian journey
The journey to becoming the highest goal scorer ever in the I-League started in Ghana, where Alausa took him to King Faisal Babes for trials which he passed. And then the opportunity opened to move to India and the rest as they say is history.
“If it were today, I will not get that chance because you must be a known player to be signed by any club in India now. Then I was nobody looking for a way out of poverty and frustration and that league saved my life,” claimed Martins. Eight years after that decision, Martins is proud and grateful to God for whatever he has been able to achieve in the Asian country. “I am grateful to God for where I am – though India was not my preferred destination, God brought me here and He has been doing wonderful things in my life. “For the last two seasons, I have been the highest goal scorer with 30 and 32 goals and because of that statistic, I have moved to Prayag United, a club I signed for before the end of last season.
In the future, Martins will love to move to mainland Europe to prove that his goal scoring feat is no fluke but right now, he is very happy to be flying the Nigerian flag high in India. “I have scored goals wherever I have been to and I have scored some goals in the AFC Cup. I even helped my team into the semi-finals, for those who believe that they don’t play football in India. At the end of last season, Martins was named as the best foreign player in the I-League by the Football Players’ Association of India (FPAI).
India, the NPL and the Super Eagles
Investigations show that the average salary for a foreign player in the I-League is about $7,000 (1.1 million naira) though sign-on fees are not paid but added to the monthly salary of the players. “They are really trying to develop and you know there are a lot of people in India so there are enough football fans out there. The league is getting stronger, the players are paid better, there is better medical, nutrition and last season, my team travelled to all our away matches by air.”
Martins, married with three kids – a daughter and two sons - has some advice for the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) board on what they need to do to make the local league more attractive. “They need to find good sponsorship and they must ensure that clubs pay their players well,” he added. The striker was honoured as the Best Forward as well as Player of the Tournament. The Nigerian hot-shot scored in seven consecutive games at the beginning of the season to earn the nickname - ‘Goan juggernaut’.
He also scored four goals in the penultimate match of the season away against Sporting Clube de Goa. The match ended 4-1 in favour of Dempo.
As much as he has achieved success in the unlikeliest of places abroad, the striker would love to represent his national team someday, to test his mettle with the Super Eagles under coach Stephen Keshi. “I have watched all our matches lately and I must give kudos to Ikechukwu Uche, who has been doing well for the team and I know that I will be an excellent addition to the team.
Martins, who will turn out for Prayag United in the new season, has been watched by an official of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and said, “We talked after the game and the official advised me to continue doing well and that I was on the radar of the national coach,” he concluded.