Earlier today Martin Ødegaard was spotted at Roazhon Park taking in the Rennes-ASSE game ahead of a probable loan move to Rennes in January. As his time at Castilla comes to an end, I thought I would take a look at how far he has come since he joined, and compare it to the closest case available. Hopefully by the end of this article any doubts you may have picked up from the media or from self doubt will be eradicated, and replaced with a sense of relief and enthusiasm ahead of Martin's next big step.
Martin Ødegaard joined Real Madrid on the 21st of January 2015, just after turning 16. He became a world renowned phenomenon at the age of just 15 back in his homeland of Norway with Strømsgodset. He became the youngest player to play, score and assist in the Norwegian top flight. It wasn't long before he received his first ever International call up for Norway to become their youngest ever player as well. Nearly every big club in Europe was chasing him, and after he completed his first full professional season, seeing him feature 25 times scoring 5 and assisting 6, he decided to join Real Madrid in a multi million pound deal. Many people were sceptical over this move, and would have preferred to see him move to a team like Ajax or Liverpool were development was supposedly more of a focus. Enter Castilla. Martin agreed to play for the Castilla side after travelling around Europe searching for his best suitor. He saw what every club had to offer and chose a top club that could offer him professional football every week. Many football fans do not know that Castilla really exists, and it wasn't long before the media started to turn on Martin, creating false stories about wages and team upsets.
The media proceeded to make Martin the subject of a hate campaign, and continue to this day to attack whenever they can. Meanwhile, Martin put his head down and started working. He knew what he needed to do, and how he could do it. After a positive first half of the season, he was given his Real Madrid debut against Getafe to become the clubs youngest ever player. Historic. His next season was his best yet. He shone in one of the best Castilla sides in recent years, and finished joint top assister. This season he has improved even further, and will leave the team in search of top level football. Still however, many are sceptical about how far he has come. Many have been won over after the recent first team performance against Leonesa, but many prefer to keep their eyes shut. I suppose the only way to open them is to compare with the next best example. At Martin's extreme age there aren't many other players to compare to, but one name stands out, and has since the beginning. Hachim Mastour.
Mastour is another phenomenon who popped up at the age of 15, dominating in AC Milan's academy. He never actually made his official debut with Milan, but did make his international debut, controversially opting to represent Morocco ahead of his birthplace in Italy. At 15 these players had the world at their feet, but had to make smart decisions regarding their immediate future. They were naturally compared with each other straight away, due to age and position. Both looked amazing, especially for their age, but most people tended to side with Mastour. I did a bit of research into their timelines from age 15, and the results are interesting to say the least.
From their breakthroughs, many people wanted to see both players jump straight to a top league to see how they would fare. This is a very naive way of looking at football, and takes no consideration into development. As we all know, Ødegaard joined Madrid, opting to develop with Castilla. Mastour however, was loaned out to La Liga side Malaga in an attempt to get him some experience at elite level. It is from here that both players take a very different path. Ødegaard excelled for Castilla, and some of his play was just world class. He was encouraged to be risky and creative without fear of being dropped, and played alongside other top class talents. He had a really great season, out of the spotlight, and continued to play for Norway alongside. Martin was developing in a professional environment created to do just that, develop into a top class player. Mastour however, found himself in a very different environment. He joined a team who's future depended on results, and as soon as he stopped performing, he was dropped indefinitely. This happened to be after his Malaga debut. Mastour ended up playing 5 minutes all season... Yes, 5.
As a result, this season Mastour had to take a big step back, and joined Dutch Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle. Martin however had developed fantastically, and was now ready for a bigger challenge. Unfortunately due to age problems, Martin was stuck at Castilla for at least half a season more. But he has gone on to recreate his best scoring season and earn a first team call up in the process. Even in Segunda B, he is playing a higher level than Hachim, who after failing to impress with PEC, has been dropped to their U21's side. Martin is still called up regularly by Norway and the U21s side, whilst Hachim has failed to build on his 1 cap so far.
So, we now arrive to the present day. One player is about to make the step up, after preparing appropriately for the last 2 years. The other is stuck in limbo after a string of bad choices have hampered his development greatly.
It's not all Hachim's fault. He was already at a huge club and Italian clubs do not offer the level of football and development that Spanish clubs do. However, if he had been as smart as Martin, and chosen any Spanish club, he could have played every week for the last 2 years whilst training alongside world class players, and I guarantee you he would be better off for it today.
This article was never about identifying the better of the 2. I have written it to highlight the good work that Castilla does, and to prove that it is a great choice for the worlds top young talents. The Ajax academy is fantastic, but these days is not as efficient as it used to be, and the first team are like any other, based on results. Of course, this doesn't mean that Castilla is the only option by any means, Martin could have joined hundreds of other clubs and developed just as nicely. But his Real Madrid choice was definitely a very smart one and a very good one. He has always taken a step forwards in his career, no matter how small. Mastour has now had to take a huge step back after making that leap too early. Here are their professional career stats so far:
Ødegaard(17) | Mastour(18)
Appearances: 96 | 7
Goals: 10 | 0
Assists: 8 | 0
I think that ends that debate...
To conclude, the reason I wrote this article is that recently Madrid have been heavily linked with Swedish teenage sensation Alexander Isak. I've seen locals and media completely dismiss any good intentions without thinking about it at all. I've already seen claims he'd do it for the money and people asking "where is he going to play? He'll just be another Ødegaard," and I guess that struck a nerve. If Isak was to join Real Madrid and team up with Castilla, it would help him greatly with his development, if not then he would go out on loan. This is just to finally put any Scandinavian worries on what on earth Martin has done for the past 2 seasons, or how Alexander Isak would cope not beating Karim Benzema in the pecking order every week to bed. Hachim Mastour still has every chance of making it and is a fantastic talent, he was just the best example I could find showing why Castilla is a great choice. Martin will most likely join Rennes next month, and seeing how he's developed over the past 2 seasons, he's more ready than ever.