Martin Ødegaard: 19 yet forgotten

Martin Ødegaard, how things have changed.

16 years of age and signed by the colossus that is Real Madrid, Martin Ødegaard had the world at his feet in 2015. Norway’s golden boy and most talented youngster for decades was the hottest prospect in world football, considered to be a future Galactico for Madridistas to adore. Fast forward 3 years and the lively attacking midfielder has been forgotten by the media, with the spotlight moving to players like Kylian Mbappe, who are fulfilling their potential despite being so young.

So where has it gone wrong for the young Norwegian who has plummeted into irrelevancy? Perhaps the blame cannot be put solemnly on the now 19 year old as other factors have certainly contributed to the incredible stagnation in his development.

Bursting Onto The Scene

Playing for his native side Strømsgodset’s senior squad at a mere 15 years of age was a truly unbelievable feat for the midfielder. 5 goals and 7 assists in 23 league appearances followed for the schoolboy in the Tippeligaen as well as appearances in Champions League qualifiers. This inevitably pricked up the ears of Europe’s elite willing to trade off unimaginable sums of money for young Ødegaard.

He was the best 15 year old in Europe, which gave him the privilege of training with the first teams of the world’s most renowned clubs. Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Arsenal were all starstruck by the talent of the young Norwegian, yet when Real Madrid come calling, all else is swept aside.

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The Dream Transfer

Real Madrid agreed Ødegaard’s transfer fee with Strømsgodset and a move to Bernabeu was beckoning for the 15 year old. At this point, many argue turning down Real would have been sensible for his development and long-term career prospects. Yet very few players, let alone 15 year olds, would dare to turn down the opportunity to play for Los Blancos.

From a financial and personal ambitions perspectives, it was a no-brainer. The spotlight was on Ødegaard with all of the media having their attention firmly fixed on his next move. He took the opportunity, signing for them in January 2015 for a fee rising to €8.5 million based on certain conditions.

With the whole footballing world observing his development, Ødegaard was to train with both the Real Madrid first team as well as Real Madrid Castilla (their reserve team). Whether this was a PR and marketing move from Real rather than a move to benefit Ødegaard’s development is open to interpretation. Yet regardless, his career at Real began well with a goal against Barakaldo CF in one of his first games for Castilla.

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Yet perhaps it came about far too quickly for the Norwegian international. He was struggling with the language and the expectations of the teenager were unrealistic which perhaps made him look worse than he actually was. Carrying the burden of your country’s hopes is hard enough but to do it at 15-16 years old is almost impossible. Ødegaard clearly needed time and space to settle, which neither the media nor the club gave him.

Ødegaard was dropped from the Castilla squad after a run of 4 defeats, with him training for both the senior and reserve team becoming an issue. Yet just a few months later, he made his first appearance for the senior team as a substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo against Getafe. He became the youngest debutant in the club’s history, a sign of good things to come for the next season.

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Ødegaard was a far more prominent figure for Real Madrid Castilla in 2015/16. He made 34 appearances in the Segunda Division B, impressive for the 17 year old at the time. However, despite his consistency of making the squad, he scored just 1 goal. Ødegaard wasn’t exactly setting the world alight, perhaps the reason why he has fallen under the radar after the hype around his transfer.

2016/17 started a lot better for Norway’s wonderkid. In 13 games for Castilla, he had scored 3 goals, better than what he managed in his previous two seasons with the Los Blancos reserves. He also finally made his first start for the senior team in the Copa Del Rey, so things were going better in the first 6 months of the season.

Redemption in Holland:

In order to get more first-team experience and improve his development, SC Heerenveen took Ødegaard on loan for 18 months. This was ideal for the midfielder who needed the spotlight away from him after struggling during his time in Spain. He also required the correct environment to develop in, which the Eredivisie has always proven to be perfect for. His first 6 months in Holland were promising with 1 goal and 3 assists in 16 games. Not incredible by any means, but it showed glimpses of what the attacking midfielder is capable of.

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Ødegaard’s 2017/18 was an improvement on the foundations he laid last season. He played on the right wing rather than in his usual central position, scoring 2 goals and laying on 1 assist in 24 appearances. Although this suggests his season was mediocre, he completed 2.8 dribbles a game whilst also providing 1.9 key passes per game.

In a team with better strikers and finishers, Ødegaard may have had double digits in assists. Moreover, this season for a 19 year old would be deemed a success in any other circumstance, yet because of the expectation on his shoulders, it still may not be considered enough.

What Lies Ahead

Martin Ødegaard has been through a lot in the last 3 years from the top talent in world football and the next world class midfielder, to being labelled a disappointment at such a young age. It’s hard to remember he is still a teenager and has plenty of time to develop. Signs at SC Heerenveen have shown he is a capable playmaker as well as a hard worker, so in 2-3 seasons time, who knows how good he could be.

With the brilliance of teenagers such as Kylian Mbappé, it has allowed the Ødegaard to have time away from the attention and play with less pressure. What lies ahead for the Norwegian? Only time will tell, but he is still certainly one to watch for the future. He may not be the next Messi, but there is time for the forgotten 19 year old to turn into a quality midfielder. 

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