Seattle Sounders striker and designated player Obafemi Martins has been sold to the Chinese Super League’s Shanghai Shenhua, according to BBC Sport. Martins, 31, is Seattle’s second-all time goal scorer, having put in 40 league goals in 72 appearances for the club.
The deal is just the latest of a series of high-profile transfers that have drawn the attention of the international soccer community, including Chelsea’s sale of Brazilian midfielder Ramires to Jiangsu Suning for £20 million, and Italian AS Roma’s offloading of Ivory Coast forward Gervinho to Hebei China Fortune. Martins is not the only MLS player being targeted by Chinese clubs, BBC’s report says.
The Chinese Super League has rules restricting the number of foreign players available to each team. No club may have more than five non-Chinese players on its roster, and one of those spots is reserved for another player from within the Asian Football Confederation.
Martins will join Australian standout Tim Cahill, formerly of the New York Red Bulls, as well as Senegalese forward Demba Ba and Colombian midfielder Fredy Guarin at Shenhua.
Sounders general manager Garth Largerway cautioned that a deal is not done.
“I can tell you Oba’s not here in this phase of camp,” Largerway said in an audio statement released by the club Sunday from Walnut, CA., where the Sounders beat UCLA 5-1. ” We’ve had an approach by a Chinese club for his services. It could take a while for that to resolve. Hopefully we’ll know more by the end of the week.”
Asked about impact on the team for its Feb. 23 opener, he said, “I don’t think it has any impact on us. We’ll go forward for this group. We’ll do what we need to do.
“We have contingency plans. If that third DP spot opens up, it gives us a lot of roster flexibility, and an ability to implement our long-term vision for this team. If it doesn’t, we’ll have Obafemi Martins back, and that’s a good thing.”
For the Sounders, the sale of Martins, who earned $3 million in 2015 including a base salary of $2.4 million, is likely the result of a few factors. With the Chinese Super League in something of an arms race, and a perception that those clubs are paying more than what some players are worth, the Sounders may realize that they would never receive a better offer for Martins, who is on the wrong side of 30.
In addition, Martins’ injuries in the past season limited him to 21 games. He sustained a groin injury in June. Martins’ sale also suggests that Seattle is confident in an attacking trio of Clint Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez as the MLS season begins.
Still, it is unusual to off-load last season’s leading scorer (a feat more notable due to his injury absences) and leave an open a DP spot so close to the beginning of the season. The Martins sale could mean that Seattle has another forward in its sights. The MLS transfer window closes May 12.