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Talent Tracker: Martin Ødegaard

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The latest on Real Madrid’s young star

The people have spoken. I now have a handsome list of names that will be covered over this series, and I’m still looking to expand on those. Before we jump straight into this, I need to make something crystal clear. If you:

1. Hate Martin Ødegaard with every bone in your body because he was better at football than you will ever be, when he was 15 years old;

2. Are hugely gullible, believe everything you read online, and take all your opinions from tabloid newspapers and @LuvBarcaHateRM, on Twitter;

3. Don’t rate Martin Ødegaard at all because you hate Real Madrid, and don’t agree with the choices that he made, for his life;

.. Then this article is not for you, and I strongly advise you to angrily slam your laptop screens down immediately.

Excellent. Now, if you are reading this sentence -- it means that you are most likely part of the smarter minority of football fans. Read on, and enjoy!

Who is Martin Ødegaard?

Martin Ødegaard began life on Thursday, the 17th of December 1998, in the beautiful Norwegian city of Drammen. His father encouraged him to take up football from a very early age, and signed him up to the youth team that he both coached, and helped to fund himself: Drammen Strong. After training heavily on a strict regime, Martin joined his local professional club’s academy, Strømsgodset, when he was 10 years old. Nobody could have predicted that just three years later, he would be training with the first team, with a view of earning a spot on the roster. At 14, he was starting for both his academy age group, and the Strømsgodset third team, in the Norwegian fifth tier. At this age, alongside being a Norwegian youth international, and training with some big European clubs, it all looked pretty promising for Martin Ødegaard. But this was only the start for him. If any new fathers out here are thinking of attempting to emulate this story as a get rich quick scheme, then I have done some digging for you and found one of Martin’s weekly training schedules from his childhood. As you can see, it’s pretty extreme:

Up to 4 hours and 16 minutes of training a day, in your early teenage years...

When Ødegaard reached the age of 15, Strømsgodset made him a first team player. Because he was not contracted, he was only allowed to feature for a maximum of three games a season. On the 13th of April 2014, history was made. Martin came on to make his senior debut against Aalesunds, becoming the youngest ever player to play in the Norwegian top flight. He impressed so much, that the club offered him his first professional contract, allowing him to play full time. From there, he scored his first senior goal against Sarpsborg, smashing the record for youngest goalscorer ever in the Norwegian top flight, and made his European debut, coming on in the Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucureşti. This did not go unnoticed. The world began to take a curious look, and Martin received off the scale attention, blasting him to super-stardom.

This recognition only escalated when Martin received his first International call up for a friendly fixture against the United Arab Emirates. He started, and etched himself into the history books once again, becoming the youngest player to ever play for the national team, at 15. Last year, I asked Norwegian and La Liga football expert Petter Veland if this call up was deserved, or just a chance to add fuel to the fire. He said: “I think he deserved it. A national team should pick the 23 best players, and at that time - as well as now - he's among the 23 best Norwegian footballers. There is no doubt in my mind. How he eventually performs during games is clearly up to himself (obviously), but it's also a case of how the Norwegian national coach uses him (position, balance, does the style of play suit him etc)”.

A month later Ødegaard was back at it for Norway, this time becoming the youngest ever player to feature in a competitive European championship game. Ødegaard helped Strømsgodset finish fourth in the Norwegian league, and grab a European spot for the coming season. It really is impossible to fully describe this period of Martin’s career in words, but hopefully my efforts, along with this video will give you an idea of just how huge it was.

What was next for Martin? The Norwegian season had ended, and nearly every big club in Europe was lining up for his signature. There was obviously a massive decision to make. The prodigy had to get it right, and visited various different clubs to observe their facilities and training methods. After weighing up his options in detail, he chose to join Real Madrid, after just turning 16, and was presented on January the 21st, 2015.

His transfer fee was a reported €4 million. Bargain. This decision was a huge compliment to the club, as Martin saw that he was always going to play competitive football, whilst receiving relevant, quality coaching, and would be allowed to develop at his own pace. This move was so significant for so many reasons. For many, (mostly upset non Real Madrid fans) this was the moment that they chose to leave the hype train. The move made many media outlets and fans from the other clubs he rejected very bitter indeed, sparking a witch hunt against the Norwegian - even to this very day.

Some of you reading this sentence right now, will hold a grudge against Martin, for no apparent reason. In the modern day, the media control everything, and sadly, they could print anything they wanted, and a section of people content with other people influencing their opinions incorrectly will buy it. As time passes it seems that it was all less about Martin, and more about certain media companies discontent for Real Madrid.

Ødegaard was completely slandered from day one. Fake stories about his wage, his relationship with his teammates and coaches, and his personality flooded the internet. Of course, all of the salty self employed football experts welcomed these horrible reports in with open arms, adding their worthless two cents to the pot as quickly as possible. Martin however, knew what he was doing. He would’ve been warned about the media’s powerful influence, but he still chose to come to Madrid, because he knew what he needed to do to succeed.

Ødegaard, a devoted Liverpool fan, rejected his dream club to join a system that was better for his development, and offered far more reward.

Martin joined up with Zinedine Zidane’s Castilla squad. He put in some very good performances during the remainder of the 2014/15 season, but at times was pretty inconsistent. Zidane doesn’t appreciate the attacking midfielder position as much as other managers might (as every player he’s managed in that position has found out at some stage). However, he still cemented a starting spot for the 15/16 campaign. And what a season he had. He was vital for one of the best Castilla sides of all time, as they fought until the very end, eventually bottling the play-offs.

Zinedine Zidane being promoted to the first team was a vital moment for the Norwegian. New manager Luis Miguel Ramis was much better suited to the Castilla job, and the youngster flourished under his guidance. I watched every televised game that Martin played for Castilla, and even some of the ones that weren’t. It saddens me to know that his time at Castilla will never be fully appreciated by the majority. This is mainly the media’s fault. Yes, at times he was inconsistent, and it didn’t help at all when he was misplayed. But in full flow, he was unstoppable, and his progress with Castilla is one of the reasons why he is in contention for a first team spot in the near future. He was magical, and if you disagree, I encourage you to refresh your memory with the video below. If you still choose to pull cotton wool over your eyes, feel free to take up golf, because football is not for you. This video doesn’t even scratch the surface of his Castilla career.

Martin didn’t join Madrid solely to play with Castilla. He was often called up to train with the first team, and made a few match day squads after his arrival. He eventually made his first team debut against Getafe in La Liga, coming on for Cristiano Ronaldo to become the youngest player in Real Madrid history. He played well, and fans left only wanting more. Sadly, they wouldn’t get it for a while. My only criticism of Real Madrid’s handling of Ødegaard so far, is that he should have had a lot more opportunities with the first team. That would be a win-win situation, and Martin would’ve benefited significantly from it. He featured predominantly in pre-seasons for the first team, notably shining in games against Bayern Munich and PSG, but that isn’t the same as playing a competitive game. Instead, his next (and currently previous) appearance for Los Blancos would come two seasons later, in the Copa Del Rey against Cultural Leonesa. Martin would go on to produce a man of the match performance, dazzling everyone from Ray Hudson to my cousin Dave, with his tricks and flicks. It’s only happened twice, but there’s few sweeter feelings than the excitement that flows through my veins when I see Martin Ødegaard’s name on a Real Madrid team-sheet. I hope, for my own footballing needs more than anything, that these are the first two of many to come.

Martin Odegaard Officially Unveiled At Real Madrid
Both a galactico and a supreme talent, Florentino must have been salivating at the mention of this boy.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

When his time at Castilla was unfortunately up and he had to move on, he joined Dutch Eredivisie club Heerenveen on a two year loan deal. This provided a reasonably decent chance for Martin to gain valid top flight experience, and develop further on his journey to the Real Madrid first team. The standard has admittedly disappointed me, and I find myself often getting frustrated at the lack of intensity and decision making ability on show from his teammates, but Martin does the best he can with what he has to work with.

It’d take a stranger about 10 seconds to pick out the Real Madrid player on the pitch. As of now, he has cemented his place in the Heerenveen starting line up, and is one of the most important players they have. His performances have even forced the media to start complimenting him again. Of course, they would never apologize, and they laughably claim that Martin has miraculously recovered from a disastrous time at a Castilla system that does not work at all... Cringe worthy.

The Ødegaard effect.

Martin Ødegaard is 18 years old. His story is unlike any other, and we are barely past the introduction yet. Let’s have a look at Martin’s CV so far (warning, this CV is long and impressive!):

  • Joins Strømsgodset's academy at 10 years old, after playing locally for a club co-ran by his father.
  • Called up to train with the Strømsgodset first team at just 13 years of age. Then makes his first senior appearance in a friendly, against Mjøndalen.

13 years old......

  • Trials with Manchester United, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich whilst still only 13.

  • Becomes a regular figure in the Norwegian youth national teams.
  • Now at the grand age of 14, Ødegaard plays for both the Strømsgodset academy, and their third team, in the fifth tier of Norwegian football.
  • Martin is promoted to the Strømsgodset first team after turning 15, in 2014. He also trains with Mjøndalen’s senior team, where his dad is the assistant coach.

Martin training with Mjøndalen IF.

  • Makes his official senior debut with Strømsgodset, in a match against Aalesunds. Instantly becomes the youngest player ever to play in the Norwegian top flight.
  • Signs his first professional contract with Strømsgodset.
  • Just a week later, he scores his first goal against Sarpsborg, becoming the youngest goalscorer ever in the history of the Norwegian top flight.
  • Makes his European debut whilst still 15, coming on against Steaua Bucureşti in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
  • Becomes a starter for Strømsgodset, and earns global recognition for his performances. This alerts every big club you can think of, and the rumour mill begins to churn.
  • Makes his senior International debut for Norway, starting against the UAE, and becomes the youngest player to ever play for the national team.
  • Called up again the next month, and becomes the youngest player ever to play in a competitive European Championship fixture.
  • Finishes his first season with five goals and six assists in 25 appearances. Strømsgodset finished fourth, earning themselves a chance at European football the next year.
  • Opts to join Real Madrid, after a gigantic transfer bidding war. He had recently turned 16. He is presented in front of the media, and was a marquee signing for Florentino Pérez and his youth development club policy.
  • Joins up with the Castilla team, led by Zinedine Zidane, for the remainder of the 2014/15 season. Scores his first goal for Castilla, against Barakaldo, four weeks later.

Reporters had to hide in bushes at Valdebebas to get a snap of the teen in his new club’s attire...

  • After training regularly and making various different match day squads, Ødegaard makes his Real Madrid first team debut against Getafe, becoming the clubs youngest ever player. Historic.

Cristiano Ronaldo always has some sort of involvement in Real Madrid history, doesn’t he?

  • Becomes an integral part of the 2015/16 Castilla team, as the youngsters go on to become arguably one of the best Castilla sides of all time. They finish top of the league group, but agonisingly fall down in the play-offs. Martin ends the campaign as the joint top assister, but only scores one goal. He finished as one of the top three players, with only Mariano earning a higher rating.
  • Called up to the national team regularly, featuring against Luka Modrić’s Croatia amongst other nations. Earns a man of the match accolade against rivals Sweden, ahead of players such as Zlatan Ibrahimović. Starts in the biggest game in years, as Norway suffer heartbreak in the European Championship play-offs against Hungary.

You won’t see many other 16 year old’s outdo this man...
  • Becomes one of the only survivors from the Santiago Solari era, scoring three times in 13 games. You could say he was lucky however, as he only has to stick around for less than half of the season.
  • Gets his first Real Madrid start in the Copa Del Rey, producing a man of the match performance that leaves the fans purring for more against Culural Leonesa. He is 17 years old at this point.
  • Norway get a new manager, Lars Lagerbäck. He favours a more defensive style, and leaves Martin out of his current plans. Ødegaard joins the Under-21’s squad, and helps them go toe-to-toe with some of the best national sides in the world at that level.
  • Gets loaned out to dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen, after a move to Rennes falls through. After taking his time to integrate into the side, he becomes one of the team’s most important players for the 17/18 season.
  • After being named man of the match in the Under-21’s thrashing of Germany, and applying constant pressure to Norway manager Lars Lagerbäck with his performances, Martin is finally recalled to the Norwegian senior team, at 18 years of age.

Per-Mathias Høgmo managed Ødegaard personally, as well as Norway positively, and they played some of their best football in years. Lars Lagerbäck has some work to do.

You won’t find a bigger CV on this series, and you’ll struggle to even find another player who has achieved so much at 18...

What’s his playing style?

Strengths:

Dribbling

What everybody knows him for. His ability on the ball is second to none, and he can beat multiple players effortlessly. He is one of those players that you just cannot take your eye off of for 90 minutes, mainly because you don’t want to. His levels of balance and agility are frightening, and only aid his top class ball control. At times for Castilla, nobody could get the ball off of him. Despite all of the unnecessary criticism constantly fired at him, he still exudes confidence, and is a calming figure on the ball. He would (and will) fit into this Real Madrid team perfectly, and would even add something extra.

Passing

This is Martin’s most underrated asset. His passing and vision is unbelievable. He see’s things that a few other Real Madrid players certainly would not. It isn’t just his range that’s impressive, but also the speed of it all - he can play a return pass quicker than other players can even think about making one. This quickness is something that he picked up whilst in Madrid. Watching him for Heerenveen can feel very strange, as his passing and vision is massively more advanced than his teammates’. His weight of pass is a thing of beauty, and he seems to always play the right pass. The final stages of a game is where you will see this come into practice the most. Martin gets visibly fatigued as he runs with the ball a lot early on, and to make up for the ground he can no longer stretch to, he will just cover that distance with an intelligent pass. Next time you watch him, be sure to observe his passing habits, it may change the way you see him as a player.

I recently read a few comments that stated Martin needed to be more efficient with his assists record. This statement does not make much sense to me. In most of the games I watch him, he could have had two or three assists every time. It isn’t down to him unfortunately, and if it was Ronaldo he was feeding, he could break records.

Decision Making

This links in very well with these other factors. His decision making, especially in the final third, is highly efficient. The majority of his passes are not only correct, but are also ones that not many others players would even think about. He knows the right time to drive into space, and when and where to pass. Of course, he does make the odd mistake here and there and his decision making should be influenced more by the thought of a shot at goal from time to time, but on the whole, his decision making is already Real Madrid standard.

Positioning/Awareness

He often finds himself in the right position at the right time, not only to help himself, but to also help his teammates to find space as well. He is fully aware of everything that goes on around him, and this becomes vital in the decision making process of when to pass or when to drive with the ball. Defensively, although not great, he is not as useless as the media makes out, and will always put himself in a position where he can hold up opposition play. Of course, having a more free role helps him accomplish this with ease.

Weaknesses:

Shooting

Martin Ødegaard’s goal record is simply not good enough. No, it is not his job to score the goals, but he is still an attacking player - and a lot of his involvement is in the final third. He does not have a bad shot at all, and the goals he has scored have actually been pretty classy, but he does not shoot often enough in situations that require him to. The most goals he has scored in a single senior season, is six -- for both Strømsgodset and Real Madrid Castilla during the 2014/15 season. Fortunately however, he won’t have to improve much on that number. To put some context into it, Isco has averaged a tally of nine goals per season since he joined Real Madrid. In the simplest terms possible, Martin Ødegaard just has to be a more efficient shooter. He was working hard on this during his time at Castilla, and was on track to break his personal record before he left. If he can add this to his game, then it will give him a different dimension of danger to play with.

Physicality

This is something that will improve over time, so we shouldn’t be too worried about it. If you look at how much he’s changed since he turned professional at 15, to now, then it becomes obvious he is on the right track. One thing I have noticed since he joined Heerenveen, is that Martin challenges for more aerial balls, and attempts more tackles. This is something that was almost non-existent at Castilla, in a very physical league, so it’s positive to see him working on this now.

His fitness comes into this too. Towards the end of games, he burns out a bit. This is likely because he is significantly involved for the teams he plays for throughout a game. Sometimes he looks so tired in the later stages of matches that it would be better to substitute him off. Real Madrid will prove to be a far more demanding challenge, and he will have to learn to conserve his energy, and improve his durability.

What are his first team chances?

Very, very high. In fact, I can almost guarantee that he will get at least one season in the first team to prove himself. His CV and achievements are like no other, and he is one of the biggest talents on Real Madrid’s long list. Three of the four best Castilla players from the 2015/16 season have now had a chance in the first team, and after seeing Mayoral handed a first team place on the back of a poor loan with Wolfsburg, it only solidifies my belief that Ødegaard will get his chance at some stage. Whether he has to go on another loan somewhere else first is another question, but he is certainly on the correct path, and will only continue to improve.

Martin has some powerful admirers.

If you want to read more from me about Martin, click here! As I have said, I now have a decent list for this series — but I am going through them in order of votes, and would love even more names to add. So if you really want to see someone covered, leave a suggestion in the comments or on Twitter. Thank you very much for reading, and be sure to drop me some feedback, positive or negative!