Martin Odegaard: From PR stunt to a Real prospect…

Date published: Thursday 10th October 2019 8:08

The tale of Martin Odegaard is a curious one, perhaps the most curious of modern times. At the age of 16, he had the world at his feet like few others before him; a year or so into his career, having made his debut and scored five goals as well as contributing seven assists in 23 games for Norwegian side Stromgodset, he was the young footballer everybody wanted to sign. Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City and Ajax were strongly linked with a move for the playmaker, but in January 2015 he opted to join reigning European champions Real Madrid in a deal worth a reported £2.3million.

It was hard to blame Odegaard for making that call; there aren’t many who could resist the glamour and bright lights of the Santiago Bernabeu as a fully paid-up superstar, let alone a teenager with dreams of becoming one. Madrid was, after all, where superstars lived. But the move didn’t appear to suit anyone from the minute it was announced, despite the player himself claiming to be in the right place for his development. History suggested he was mistaken, with Juan Mata, Alvaro Morata and Roberto Soldado just three who eventually became Spanish internationals but were forced to leave Real to find opportunities elsewhere. Madrid are as ruthless as America’s film industry and it looked like child actor Odegaard would be discarded without ever being handed a starring role.

After months in the spotlight, time away to hone his skills in a nurturing environment was what he needed. No matter how talented a player might be at that tender age, his career relies on so much more than talent and Los Blancos supplied the worst possible grounding. While his reputation meant headlines were unavoidable, there wasn’t nearly enough done to provide the foundations for a smooth transition into the first team. Training with Zinedine Zidane – then coach of the reserve team – would obviously be a lure, but the fact he would also train with Carlo Ancelotti and the seniors compromised his chances of success. Ancelotti later admitted the signing was a PR stunt; everything about it jarred, and as soon as his form suffered and his meteoric rise stunted, he began to drift.

Time in the Eredivisie – where many believe he should have gone to play for Ajax – with Vitesse and Herenveen was crucial. He had been sent on loan in a bid to get his career back on track, rather than simply gain experience. Without the media circus, Odegaard reminded everyone what the fuss was all about in the first place. Now still only 20, he is exactly where he should be, impressing at his own pace back in Spain, now on loan at Real Sociedad. Despite their mistreatment of him, Madrid may still see the best of their prodigy, and he says he still hopes he can have a successful future in the Spanish capital.

With Zidane now at the helm and a transition in progress, it is a much better place for him now. But Odegaard must be aware of the pressurised environment in which playmakers like James Rodriguez and Isco have struggled, no thanks to their manager. Reputation still counts for a lot and in the case of Rodriguez, a player only still at the Bernabeu because they couldn’t find a buyer after two years on loan at Bayern Munich, that is very pertinent indeed. Odegaard would be better served continuing on his current path of impressing at Anoeta, where he has scored twice in eight La Liga games and went viral for a nutmeg and pass against Alaves a couple of weeks ago.

His time in San Sebastian will be fleeting; he is once again destined for the top. Twenty caps for Norway since 2014 suggest he has paced himself correctly on the international stage, and he must do the same with his next move. Real Madrid hold the cards, but the Premier League has been mooted as a potential destination; Manchester City are once again in the frame, while Liverpool could be interested too. But Pep Guardiola’s positive words on Phil Foden must be backed up with game-time when David Silva departs in the summer, and Odegaard’s presence would only frustrate him further. The Reds need creativity in midfield, but Jurgen Klopp is not one to pile talent on top of talent. Whatever happens, it is important that Odegaard remains focused.

Warnings became reality for Odegaard the first time around. His talent, while incredible, became too much of a hook in his story and everything else got forgotten. He has a second chance and seems to be taking it, growing as both a player and a man. The chances of a successful spell at Real Madrid are still there, while those big clubs are all circling again in case he becomes available. It is important that he stays grounded – he has five years before hitting his peak – and if he gets his next move right, he could genuinely be one of the best around.

Harry De Cosomo – follow him on Twitter, why don’t you?

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