Martin Odegaard’s debut for Real Madrid was nothing but a fairy tale. The Norwegian was just 16 years and 157 days old. He just signed for Madrid in January 2015. The teenage sensation and the next big thing in Europe, Martin was a player for the future. Madrid went for him and gave him the chance to play for Real Madrid Castilla and the senior team.
On May 23rd, he became the youngest player in Real Madrid history to represent a senior team. It was the final fixture of the season against Getafe FC. Real Madrid was playing Getafe at Santiago Bernabéu. It was a roaring Bernabéu as their hard-fought season was coming to an end. On the 58th minute, Carlo Ancelloti decided to bring on the much-hyped and talked Martin Odegaard on the pitch. Martin Subbed Cristiano Ronaldo to come on the pitch. It was an iconic moment, one will be remembered fondly for generations if the legend of Martin Odegaard grows. An almost skinny boy in the bright white Madrid shirt was waiting on the sidelines to register his name in the books of the History Club, The fantasy Club- Real Madrid. Real Madrid finished the match with a 7-3 win. The boy got thunderous applause every time his feet had the ball.
Dream of a Norwegian Kid
If you think about his debut, it is indeed a fairy tale. When he was signed for Real Madrid for a reported €3 million fee, he was just a teenage sensation. He probably never even thought of signing for them at such an early age and also get a first-team call up in such a short period. He was practicing 5 days a week with the senior team, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, or Toni Kross. The Norwegian ‘Messi’ was the next big thing and was earmarked for a colossal generation-defining career at the Bernabeu. The pressure was immense. He was practicing with the first squad but he didn’t have the time to zeal with the castilla player. He was a foreign player with the kind of money the Castilla players could never dream of. Maybe that made it harder for him to adapt to the Castilla life. It didn’t mean he wasn’t able to show his qualities on the field. He was doing okay but not great. Real Madrid demands great.
The Fall of the Hype
Soon the hyped cooled down and he was just another Real Madrid player. He needed to spread his wings. When we look at the African origin players like Ansu Fati, Youssoufa Moukoko- who are just 15 or 16 years, we see a very different type of physicality. It’s robust and almost ready for senior call ups. But when you looked at Martin when he was 15 or 16, he was not that physical. He didn’t have the muscle mass to compete at the highest level of European Football. He had to develop that physicality and for that, he needed more football. For better game time and growth at his own pace, Real Madrid decided to send him on loan. It was important not to stretch his effort to improve phyicallity which might come at the cost of his agility and flexibility. Martin Odegaard is a silky and very agile player. The hype and the brand of football Real Madrid played at that time was just not right for his growth.
Real Madrid played with players like Karim Benzema, Ronaldo, Bale, Kross, Casemiro, Modric, James, Marcelo, Ramos, Isco who are physically very strong. They built a system under Zidane which depends a lot on the physicality and robust pace. He was not that kind of player yet.
The Bounce Back
He was sent on loan in 2017, to the Dutch club SC Heerenveen for 18 months. He was strongly rumored to join the Spanish rival Barcelona that summer. Such as the quality of this player. But Madrid’s transfer ban to a rival club denied that move and he was sent to Netherland. Where slowly and steadily he had to adapt. In August 2018, Real Madrid announced that Ødegaard would be loaned again for the 2018–19 season, joining another Eredivisie club, SBV Vitesse. Both this loan spell was not that successful but it was pivotal for his growth. His physicality improved and he was slowly developing his tactical aspect of the game. On 5 July 2019, he was loaned to Spanish side Real Sociedad for one season, It was the breakthrough season for Martin Odegaard. It was the season when he announced his return to La Liga again. With Real Sociedad, the world witnessed the true potential of Martin. He was the showman of Sociedad. He played some of the most beautiful football that season. His match-winning goal against Atletico Madrid that season got the Los Blancos excited for his return. Real Sociedad was almost built around him. In February 2020 he scored against Real Madrid to help his loan club eliminate his parent club from the 2019–20 Copa del Rey at the quarter-final stage. Real Sociedad reached the final of the competition but the final was postponed due to the COVID outbreak. He sarted to come on the headlines again. Despite repeated statements from the officials about his extension of the loan period, he was called back to Madrid by Zidane himself at the start of the 2020-21 season. Zidane let go of James Rodriguez and Dani Ceballos to accommodate Martin Odegaard. Zidane personally wanted him back in the Madrid side. With the aging Luka Modric and the emergence of Fede Valverde, it was important for Zidane to have a player of his tactical capability.
How Good is Martin Odegaard?
Diminutive, quick-footed, with natural balance, pace and, excellent shooting power- defines Martin Odegaard. When describing his son, Hans Erik Ødegaard said,
"It's the pace of the game that makes the difference in adjusting to different levels. We've used so many hours in working with his first and second touch to take off the pressure. We have worked a lot on bringing the ball close to his feet, so he can change direction quickly, so even if he's physically weaker than the others he doesn't get caught because he's able to get away."
It shows his rise to the top level is not just steady progress but a very meticulously arranged program.
But the history is repeating somewhat. Martin was hyped again by Spanish Media and his return to Madrid again made it all romantic again. He started the season with Madrid with good performances. But again, not ‘Great’. Madrid demands great. With mounting pressure to deliver a more impactful performance and Madrid’s conjecture of a more do or die match at such an early stage of the season, sidelined Odegaard again. The more reliable trio Modric-Kross-Casemiro returned again. An injury setback and COVID positive sidelined him again. His most impressive performance came against Inter Milan away at San Siro in the Champions League. It was another ‘final’ for Madrid. with the absence of Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema, it made it tougher for Madrid. With Toni Kross dropping deep to help Madrid in defense and distribute the ball, Odegaard got the opportunity to roam freely around the midfield. He was immensely press resistant and created so many chances from tight situations. With him and Luka Modric, Madrid defeated Inter 0-2 with relative ease. One biggest factor that attributed to Martin’s good performance was the absence of Karim Benzema. How weird it may sound but it was true. Karim Benzema likes to drop deep on the wings and midfield. This restricts the movement of Martin Odegaard. It was evident in their inaugural match of La Liga against Real Sociedad. Without Benzema and Toni Kross on the midfield, he had his own space to really dominate and dictate the play. He rose to the occasion and delivered when it mattered.
He was impressive on his International Duty but somewhat lost his place again in the side. He has not played a minute of first-team football since 1 December. But with just a quarter gone on the season, we could expect more of him in the season. He is ready and he must perform. Sometimes it takes a year to settle in Madrid. Look at Luka Modric. It was voted the worst signing of La Liga in his debut season. Well, he won the Ballon d’Or and 4 Champions League for Los Blancos. Martin Odegaard must be patient and ready. The whole world will be looking closely at him.