What next for teenage prodigy Odegaard?

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May 13, 2021
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    Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring against TottenhamMartin Odegaard has scored only two goals for Arsenal this season, although one of them did come in a Premier League win over rivals Tottenham

    When Martin Odegaard joined Arsenal on loan from Real Madrid in January, it was hoped he would drive them on to Europa League success and a top-four Premier League finish.

    Neither of those ambitions has materialised and, with European qualification for next season unlikely, the chances are Arsenal will find it difficult to keep hold of the 22-year-old.

    After starting impressively, his progress has been hampered by injury and his playing time has been limited lately.

    But there have been flashes of brilliance from the Norway midfielder, reminders of why for so long he has been regarded as a star in the making and why Real Madrid bought him amid much fanfare as a 16-year-old.

    So what do those who have played alongside and watched Odegaard think of him? And will we be seeing him in a Real shirt again next season?

    Short presentational grey line

    Odegaard's signing from Real came at a time when Arsenal were struggling for creativity but, alongside two other exciting young players – Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe – he has provided moments which suggest he is at home on the big stage.

    Manager Mikel Arteta has repeatedly praised Odegaard, both for how quickly he has adapted and also for his leadership skills.

    "When everyone was a little bit trembling, he gave us that stability, that composure on the ball and created chance after chance," Arteta said after Odegaard's sparkling performance in a 3-3 draw against West Ham in March.

    That was hardly news to fans in Norway, where Odegaard was this year appointed as the national team's captain despite being only 22.

    He earned superstar status in his home country long ago. In April 2014, he was picked by Stromsgodset against Aalesunds FK and became the youngest player in Norway's top-flight history at the age of 15 years and 118 days. Just four months later, he made his first appearance for the national team, against United Arab Emirates, becoming Norway's youngest debutant.

    Martin Odegaard and Norway head coach Per Mathias Hoegmo speak at a press conference in 2014 shortly before the then 15-year-old's international debutOdegaard is 22 but has been playing international football for seven years, having made his Norway debut in 2014

    But Odegaard's former team-mates at Stromsgodset knew his potential long before that. The coaches noticed it, too – and made him train with the first team when he had not long turned 13.

    "I remember a friendly during that summer [2012]," Hungarian striker Peter Kovacs – 20 years older than Odegaard – tells BBC Sport. "Martin came on as a sub and didn't have any muscles, but he gave me the assist and we drew 2-2.

    "From the first training session you could see that the boy had something special. We were experienced guys, but he just fooled us. He was running the show from the first game."

    Odegaard was given playing time at Stromsgodset by Ronny Deila, who went on to manage Celtic, and never looked back. Despite being so young, it was his game intelligence that stood him apart.

    "I remember a training camp in Spain before the 2014 season when we played against CSKA Moscow," Kovacs adds. "Martin got a ball and suddenly three or four big Russian guys tried to get it off him. I said to myself that he was going to be injured or something. But he just easily came out of the situation. It was amazing to see."

    Odegaard started playing football on a gravel pitch in his home town Drammen. Under the watchful eye of his father, Hans Erik, he trained at least 20 hours per week during his childhood – and quickly became better than the older kids around him. After joining Stromsgodset, he continued climbing up the age categories and ended up as a boy in a dressing room full of men.

    "The coach told him he would be treated the same as the other players, even if he was so young," Kovacs explains. "When we wanted to tackle him, we would tackle him hard. He would learn the hard way. I believe he benefitted from that. Norwegian football is quite hard and physical. It gave him a good start in his professional life."

    Odegaard would turn up to Stromsgodset's training ground just after his school classes ended in the afternoon and then undertake two training sessions and a gym workout before going home.

    "He was always 100% in what he needed to do. In his mindset, he was like an older pro," Jarl Andre Storbaek, Stromsgodset's right-back, says. "Kids in Norway don't realise how much it takes to get as good as him. They train maybe for half of that and they think they will be next."

    After Odegaard became a full member of Stromsgodset's first team, Storbaek would often meet him at the ground early in the morning. "I was 36 at that time, so I had to come to do some stretching and exercises. Martin came early for the session, too, even though he was only 15. It was me, the oldest guy in the squad, and Martin, the youngest guy, doing preparation early. I realised he was a serious guy who could get just what he wishes."

    When Storbaek faced him on the training pitch, he would get a sense of deja vu. Seven years before that, he played for Norway in a friendly game against Argentina and defended against Lionel Messi.

    "It was the same feeling when I met Martin," adds Storbaek. "He already had those skills: the right speed of a pass, he could adjust his position to other players, break through the lines, make sprints, change his movement the other way than you thought. He was far better than all the others. During training, he could just run around us. When I defended against him, I always had a feeling that I got him, but no, far from it. He turned another way and he was off."

    It was soon clear to everyone Odegaard would not stay in Norway for long. Many European elite clubs became interested, including Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal. Inevitable comparisons with Messi appeared in the newspapers. However, in January 2015, Real Madrid signed him, paying an initial fee reported by Spanish media to be £2.3m.

    The path to Real's first team has proved a tough one, though, and a player destined to be Norway's first global footballing superstar has been surpassed in that regard by Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland.

    Carlo Ancelotti gave him his debut in a 7-3 home win against Getafe, coming on as a substitute for Cristiano Ronaldo. "When he debuted in Norway, he came on for me," Kovacs says. "In Madrid, he replaced Ronaldo. I told him: 'Martin, now you have to remember you replaced Ronaldo and myself!'"

    Odegaard could not get playing time at the Bernabeu, so he made the first of his loan moves, joining Dutch side Heerenveen in January 2017. It took him some time to adapt there. "At Heerenveen, he was good, but somehow he never fulfilled his potential there," says Dutch football journalist Merijn Slagter.

    That changed when Odegaard joined another Eredivisie club – Vitesse. "At Vitesse we saw a better Odegaard. Sometimes he was absolutely brilliant," Slagter adds. "He became one of the best players in the league. He could read the game so well he was always two steps ahead of his opponents, and Ajax wanted to buy him, but it didn't work out."

    In summer 2019, Real sent him for another loan to Real Sociedad, and Odegaard impressed. Having become one of the team's leaders, he helped Sociedad into the Copa del Rey final and sixth place in La Liga, earning a Europa League spot. La Real wanted him to return.

    But last summer Real manager Zinedine Zidane decided to keep him in Madrid. Odegaard started the first league game of the 2020-21 season, but after he was substituted at half-time against Real Betis, he ended up on the bench. With Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in his position, the chances of getting into the starting XI were limited. Arsenal made their move.

    Martin Odegaard shakes hands with Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane is likely to be a key figure in how Odegaard's career progresses

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    His impact in England is difficult to gauge. He has been influential at times but, while statistics may only paint part of the picture, his raw numbers do little to suggest he can dislodge Modric and Kroos when he returns to Madrid in the summer: 11 Premier League appearances, one goal, no assists, no big chances created.

    Where does it all leave him?

    He is happy at Arsenal, feels valued and the Gunners have made a big effort to ensure he knows he is appreciated. The Premier League is held in high regard in Norway, so there is a certain status afforded to those who play in it.

    But Odegaard is likely to feel he should be playing European football. There are no other offers on the table at the moment and Real do need to rejuvenate their squad, but the future of Zidane is likely to be crucial.

    Zidane clearly decided he could do without Odegaard earlier this season, although it is far from certain the manager will be around next season. Many Real players expect him to leave.

    For Odegaard, finding a permanent home where he is appreciated and can play regularly at the highest level is his next major challenge.

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    Additional reporting by Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.

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    230 commentsShowLatestOldestHighest RatedMost Replied

    • M

      Comment posted by markyp1965, at 12:20 12 May

      Those comparing Odegaard to Ceballos are missing a point. The Norwegian has expressed a desire to stay, whilst Ceballos can’t wait to leave. I know which one I’d prefer to see Arsenal keep and it’s not the Spaniard.
      Odegaard has massive potential, but needs consistent game time and the security of knowing he’s wanted.452

      • E

        Reply posted by El_Cuervo, at 14:21 12 May

        "Those comparing Odegaard to Ceballos are missing a point. The Norwegian has expressed a desire to stay, whilst Ceballos can’t wait to leave. I know which one I’d prefer to see Arsenal keep and it’s not the Spaniard.Odegaard has massive potential, but needs consistent game time and the security of knowing he’s wanted."El_Cuervo replied: Caballos will be back at Betis. He’s also nowhere near good enough for Real Madrid. Betis will take him back, no doubt.

        Odegaard isn’t much better than Cebollas. Both are second-rate.622

      More replies (9)

    • D

      Comment posted by DaveP1982, at 12:38 12 May

      Less than a dozen games for Real Madrid in 6 years and they’ve loaned him out 4 times.. makes you wonder how good he is. He’s still very young good luck to him wherever he plays next431

      • E

        Reply posted by El_Cuervo, at 14:18 12 May

        "Less than a dozen games for Real Madrid in 6 years and they’ve loaned him out 4 times.. makes you wonder how good he is. He’s still very young good luck to him wherever he plays next"El_Cuervo replied: He’s rank rotten. An Arsenal level player at best. He’s too light-weight, slow, and clearly can’t handle the pressure of the big time.

        Certainly no good for Real Madrid. Neither is Cebollas. Pity Arsenal couldn’t buy both of them and get them off the wage bill.652

      More replies (17)

    • W

      Comment posted by WIthrespect, at 13:54 12 May

      If you have ever played the game you know you needs games to reach your peek levels, I suspect he needs more time.

      Whenever I see him play for Arsenal I get Odegaard and Smith Row mixed up, I like them both but if im being very honest Smith Row is an academy graduate and Odegaard would cost a fortune.

      Arsenal needs players in other positions – stick with Smith Row and spend £ on other players330

    • 3

      Comment posted by 3EyedCraven, at 14:10 12 May

      Biggest mistake he made was going to Real Madrid, I don’t get why these young players see that. Playing B team football and getting farmed on loan for years is not the way to develop

      When he went to Real, Southampton were in for him, if he’d had gone there he’d have 6 years of first team PL football and prolly have moved to a super club by now, a more complete player (and on more money)322

      • E

        Reply posted by El_Cuervo, at 14:28 12 May

        "Biggest mistake he made was going to Real Madrid, I don’t get why these young players see that. Playing B team football and getting farmed on loan for years is not the way to developWhen he went to Real, Southampton were in for him, if he’d had gone there he’d have 6 years of first team PL football and prolly have moved to a super club by now, a more complete player (and on more money)"El_Cuervo replied: You seriously think he’d get a better place to develop at Southampton than at Real Madrid? HAHAHAH That’s very cute. hahahah.
        Let’s see…coached by Zidane in the best facilities money could buy, in the perfect climate or, hang on, maybe the big chance to move to the English Riviera and be part of the world renowned Southampton FC.
        HAHAHA yeah brilliant.
        I love people like you.160

      More replies (38)

    • K

      Comment posted by kafka12, at 11:46 12 May

      Arsenal has two loanees from Real M. Neither was good enough to be kept in Madrid this year. In the same position Hazard (despite the cost)& Bale due to his wages provide challenges to Real selectors at the end of season. They might end up in the Premier L.next season! Arsenal has substantial problems with most of its own players :trying to get rid of them. Sending back loanees is the easy part .282

    • M

      Comment posted by Marco, at 11:54 12 May

      Neither Ceballos nor Odegaard have shown any consistency at this level for us. And at the end of the day that’s what differentiates an average player from a top player at this level. Let’s ship out all the dead wood and bring in players like Buendia and Toney in the summer.285

      • N

        Reply posted by Name, at 13:22 12 May

        "Neither Ceballos nor Odegaard have shown any consistency at this level for us. And at the end of the day that’s what differentiates an average player from a top player at this level. Let’s ship out all the dead wood and bring in players like Buendia and Toney in the summer."Name replied: Agreed, both were decent when they first came in but definitely haven’t set the world alight. Especially with Odegard, when we have such an exciting young English player in Smith-Rowe, I don’t think we should be bothered about him going back to Madrid172

    • E

      Comment posted by Enjoy Yourself, at 11:42 12 May

      ‘Arsenal will find it difficult to keep hold of the 22-year-old’.

      Should they try to?266

      • F

        Reply posted by Footy_fan, at 12:53 12 May

        "’Arsenal will find it difficult to keep hold of the 22-year-old’.Should they try to?"Footy_fan replied: Haha good one 😀11

    • L

      Comment posted by Leeds1963, at 13:10 12 May

      I’d love to have him at Leeds.
      Played very well here in Holland with Heerenveen and Vitesse Arnhem.141

      • A

        Reply posted by Athils Thorgisl, at 14:08 12 May

        "I’d love to have him at Leeds.Played very well here in Holland with Heerenveen and Vitesse Arnhem."Athils Thorgisl replied: Leeds United I think would be a great match up. Bielsa would complete him. From what I have seen of him, he has everything. Just needs to be consistent.60

    • K

      Comment posted by Kevin Gerard, at 12:06 12 May

      Although Saka has been brilliant and Smith Rowe has had his moments, without doubt Tierney has been player of the season. Odegaard will look at those three as well as others out on loan from Arsenal and see that there is the beginning of a legendary team there and he will want to be part of that – if he has any sense! RM is at the end of a cycle and will take a few years to start rebuilding.2411

      • M

        Reply posted by Magpieforever, at 12:34 12 May

        "Although Saka has been brilliant and Smith Rowe has had his moments, without doubt Tierney has been player of the season. Odegaard will look at those three as well as others out on loan from Arsenal and see that there is the beginning of a legendary team there and he will want to be part of that – if he has any sense! RM is at the end of a cycle and will take a few years to start rebuilding."Magpieforever replied: I really do admire your optimism, but Arsenal are so short of quality players it’s scary. Saka and Tierney sure, but the rest? Odegaard adds virtually nothing. Auba doesn’t try anymore and Partey is already injury prone. Tough times ahead!223

      More replies (3)

    • T

      Comment posted by TV, at 12:04 12 May

      Not consistant enough.
      Only showed glimpses of promise.152

      • N

        Reply posted by Nooky, at 15:25 12 May

        "Not consistant enough.Only showed glimpses of promise."Nooky replied: much like the yearly report made by mrs tv……………10

      More replies (1)

    • R

      Comment posted by RicciM, at 11:31 12 May

      Why is there a HYS on this….
      Simply to stoke the Arsenal haters and gain clicks
      The BBC is intent in maintaining these recently lowered standards.2411

      • N

        Reply posted by Nooky, at 14:27 12 May

        "Why is there a HYS on this….Simply to stoke the Arsenal haters and gain clicksThe BBC is intent in maintaining these recently lowered standards."Nooky replied: arsenal hating is universal and not restricted to HYS – but you are right, arsenal shouldn’t have any HYS threads in case these nasty people say nasty things about your club612

      More replies (10)

    • A

      Comment posted by AL, at 14:12 12 May

      I’m actually indifferent to him staying – I think we have other positions that are a priority. The problem is Arteta – how ruthless and ambitious is he going to be. I’m starting to believe that quality players have and will regress under him – Odegaare, Partey are clear examples. And then we will be fed the tripe of ‘having potential and performance in training’ of sub standard signings.131

      • D

        Reply posted by Doug, at 16:39 12 May

        "I’m actually indifferent to him staying – I think we have other positions that are a priority. The problem is Arteta – how ruthless and ambitious is he going to be. I’m starting to believe that quality players have and will regress under him – Odegaare, Partey are clear examples. And then we will be fed the tripe of ‘having potential and performance in training’ of sub standard signings."Doug replied: Arsenal have gone backward and can’t/won’t spend more. Everyone else is evolving their team constantly but they bought in Luiz and Willian. Not sure Arteta can be blamed. Kronke is at the core of the rotten apple61

    • I

      Comment posted by Indiscriminate, at 13:56 12 May

      Seem to be parallels with Bojan – not in terms of playing style but in terms of incredible talent emerging at a young age and people expecting them to continue to become a ‘great’. Seems that Odegaard, like Bojan, while still a good player hasn’t progressed to become the player that many forecast as a youngster. He’s a good player and will have a good career but sometimes expectations are too high120

    • Y

      Comment posted by you go chavez, at 12:58 12 May

      At 22 and with seven years experience you would expect more. Got to ask why he cant get into a fading RM team.
      He should be further on in his development than this.
      He seems at around the same level as ESR so if he cant or wont stay at Arsenal it wont be a big problem.122

    • T

      Comment posted by TheMiller, at 11:13 12 May

      He’s too good for a mid-table team like Arsenal. Should look to join a European-qualified team like West Ham or Leicester maybe.3424

      • C

        Reply posted by Chippelsea, at 11:17 12 May

        "He’s too good for a mid-table team like Arsenal. Should look to join a European-qualified team like West Ham or Leicester maybe."Chippelsea replied: LOL814

      More replies (6)

    • R

      Comment posted by Rikin, at 12:57 12 May

      I thought he was our worst player in the Europa semi-final. Slow and ponderous with no intensity. He was painfully slow at taking corners and walking off the pitch when substituted even though he knew we still needed a goal. Overrated and get rid135

    • U

      Comment posted by Uncle Ronnies Legs are Trombones, at 12:04 12 May

      A player signed to a club that are a shadow of what they once were loaned out to a club that are a shadow of what they once were.

      Talk about wrong place, wrong time.

      I hope he has more luck in other areas of his life.137

      • N

        Reply posted by Nooky, at 12:50 12 May

        "A player signed to a club that are a shadow of what they once were loaned out to a club that are a shadow of what they once were. Talk about wrong place, wrong time.I hope he has more luck in other areas of his life."Nooky replied: like being a multi millionaire at the age of 22?102

      More replies (4)

    • R

      Comment posted by richwalt34, at 12:56 12 May

      Sometimes players just don’t click in a team – they may have the talent but just don’t fit into the system or culture at a club or might have lost their confidence. This guy has been hyped to the moon and back but has failed to produce consistently at three clubs now. I wouldn’t keep him as you just wouldn’t get value from him – get someone more hungry and on-form.83

      • B

        Reply posted by Bullybeef, at 17:52 12 May

        "Sometimes players just don’t click in a team – they may have the talent but just don’t fit into the system or culture at a club or might have lost their confidence. This guy has been hyped to the moon and back but has failed to produce consistently at three clubs now. I wouldn’t keep him as you just wouldn’t get value from him – get someone more hungry and on-form."Bullybeef replied: Lets face it no one has been consistent in Arsenal, Arteta is the problem,how on earth can anyone fit into a team that makes so many changes per game20

    • F

      Comment posted by footnote, at 15:20 12 May

      Young man is probably burnt , overzealous coaches and by the sounds of it his father too.51

    • A

      Comment posted by alan mason, at 17:21 12 May

      I’m an Arsenal follower and neither of these two Real Madrid players is good enough at top level. Arsenal should send them back with a “No thank you” note and move on.30

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