“It’s not possible to predict anything in football, you just have to work hard and develop and in the end you see.” – Martin Ødegaard
Catapulted into global stardom as a 16-year-old prodigy signed by Real Madrid in 2015, Martin Ødegaard seems to have been around forever. The Norwegian attacking-midfielder, who can double up as a right-winger was initially touted to be one of the biggest talents of his generation- ‘The Norwegian Messi’, they called him. An exemplary dribbler with an eye for a killer pass and an immaculate shooting range, Ødegaard’s story so far has taken him from the dizzying lights at the Santiago Bernabéu to the picturesque canals, tulip fields, and windmills of the Netherlands.
Currently 21 years old, breaking ankles and toying with the best defenders of La Liga, we take a look at Ødegaard’s footballing journey.
The Norwegian’s journey as a footballer is as pristine as it is picturesque, stretching from the spectacular fjords and Northern Lights of Drammen, Norway to Säbaner Strasse, the training ground of German and European heavyweights, Bayern Munich.
Born in 1998 to Lene Cecilie Ødegaard and Hans Erik Ødegaard, a former footballer who played as a midfielder for Strømsgodset, a Norwegian football club and co-founder of a football section at local sports club Drammen Strong. His father later became the coach of his son’s first semi-professional team.
“Ødegaard gets the ball in very small spaces and finds solutions. He can open every defence with his smartness; he makes very good passes.” – Harald Johannessen (one of Ødegaard’s first coaches).
In 2005, when Martin was six, his parents and neighbours each invested 50,000 kroner for refitting the club’s gravel field with artificial turf. This would prove crucial in his development as a footballer as he would spend countless hours on the field, honing his skills.
Later in 2009, Ødegaard would join the youth division of Strømsgodset, his father’s old team, immediately impressing the coaches and training staff with his natural skill and work ethic.
“We had some training every Sunday. I think he was maybe 11, 12 years old and he was coming here every Sunday to train at what we call Elite Academy. When he was 13 years old, we gave him an offer to join the professional club. He was the first one at such a young age to get an offer. He was very confident. He was doing his best all the time; he had the dedication.”- Johannessen, now the under-16 coach at Strømsgodset remembers.
Ødegaard’s success and rapid development can be attributed to his father, Hans Erik, who used to draw up weekly timetables for his son to fit in as much training as possible – at least 20 hours a week. This hard work in his childhood was rewarded with him breaking several records, for both club and country.
Rise to Stardom and Subsequent Move to Real Madrid
After justifying the hype around him in the youth division, Ødegaard made his senior debut in a mid-season friendly for Strømsgodset against Mjøndalen at the age of 13. He became the youngest ever player in the Tippeligaen against Aalesunds aged 15 years and 118 days, later signing his first professional contract with the club. 11 days later, he also became the youngest goalscorer ever in the Tippeligaen against Sarpsborg; he also made his full debut for Norway that very same year, against the United Arab Emirates. Ødegaard finished the league scoring 5 goals and laying down 7 assists in 23 league games, helping his side finish 4th in the league.
“The best 15-year-olds in the country were gathered for a tournament between the top clubs… It was definitely not the first time he had astonished his opponents or the spectators. He was three or four years younger than the others. It was impossible not to realize that we were witnessing something out of the ordinary.” – former football manager Lars Tjærnås during a nationwide tournament in Norway for under-16s speaking about a 12-year-old Martin Odegaard.
Such record-breaking achievements and stupendous form attracted the attention of almost every major European club and after numerous trials at the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United, the precocious talent finally signed for Real Madrid on 21st January 2015 for a fee of about 4 million euros. This deal created shockwaves throughout Norwegian football, inviting the public eye on football’s ‘next big thing’.
However, first-team opportunities proved limited for Ødegaard, who had to slug it out at Madrid’s reserve team, RM Castilla (managed by a certain Zinadine Zidane) for the remainder of the season, training with the first team at times. On 16th May, Ødegaard continued to break records becoming the youngest debutant in Real Madrid history at the age of 16 years and 157 days, making a substitute appearance for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Loan Spells at the Eredivisie
Ødegaard became a regular for the Castilla side in the 2015-16 season, finally making his first start for Real Madrid on 30th November 2016, 679 days after he had signed for the club. Due to a lack of first-team opportunities, he signed for Dutch club SC Heerenveen on 10th January 2017 on loan for 18 months. He made his Eredivisie debut four days later in a 2–0 home win over ADO Den Haag. However, Ødegaard’s start to life at the club proved very underwhelming, with him taking just one shot and laying down a solitary assist, in his first 7 games. He was later injured and thus mostly confined to the substitutes bench for the remainder of the season. He faced flak from many quarters during this time, some labelling him as another failed talent.
In the subsequent season, Ødegaard became a regular starter for the club, scoring and assisting twice in 26 appearances.
He moved again on loan the following season to SBV Vitesse, after failing to impress the then Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui in pre-season. He took his performances to another notch, going on to score five times and assisting six more goals in 22 Eredivisie appearances for Vitesse, leading the club charts for chances created and take-ons completed, convincing the backroom staff at Madrid that he still had a future at the club.
Taking La Liga by storm
On 5th July 2019, he was loaned to Real Sociedad for one season, with Real Madrid retaining the option to recall the player or extend the loan for an additional season after the first year. He made an immediate impact, scoring his first La Liga goal in a 1–0 victory over Mallorca at the Son Moix. Playing on the right of a midfield three or as an attacking midfielder, Ødegaard has been a joy to watch this season, breaking ankles, spinning defenders and splitting even the best defences apart with sublime through balls and his mesmerising feet. He has also grown more mature, forsaking his flicks and nutmegs in exchange for recycling possession and accepting the return pass, capturing the world’s attention again as one of La Liga’s best young midfielders.
He is consistently delivering the goods, with exemplary performances against Atletico Madrid, Osasuna and against Real’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. In a standout performance, Ødegaard ripped Barcelona to shreds in a 2-2 draw, leading the game for most shots attempted and most chances created, making a mockery out of world-class midfielders like Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets with his magic.
He also put on a virtuoso performance against Osasuna, and capped it with a majestic free-kick into the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper a mere spectator. He came back to haunt his parent side Real Madrid, scoring in a spectacular performance and ripping the Madrid defence to shreds in a 4-3 win for Sociedad, knocking Madrid out of the Copa del Rey in the process. He currently has 7 goals and 8 assists in a standout season, creating chances at will with his sublime passes.
Ødegaard’s journey as a youngster with the world seemingly at his feet, a slight deviation into obscurity and being considered a failed talent and his subsequent meteoric rise proving all his haters wrong serves as a testament to his talent, tenacity, and dedication. The world is his oyster and if he continues to develop at the same pace, there is no limit to where the ‘Norwegian Wonderkid’ can go.
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