Martin Odegaard, Real Madrid’s precocious Norwegian talent, is charting into new territory. Now 20, Odegaard was recruited and purchased by Real Madrid at the age of 15. Since that time, Madrid has gone on a rampage and secured some of the world’s most elite prospects—all of whom were teenagers when signed: Vinicius JR, Rodrygo Goes, Lunin, Asensio, Vallejo, Theo, Fede Valverde, and most recently Brahim Diaz. Odeegard’s path has been the one less traveled, but may very well be the model for the future. In what will soon be his third successive loan, Odegaard has been forced to develop away from Madrid. Some could argue there is room in the squad today for the fleet footed inverted winger, but minutes would be hard to come by. Martin, and his father, have been very detailed and almost empathic about his future and the importance of playing. Though, Martin has never hidden his ultimate goal: “You have to be modest and keep your goal in mind. How many 19-year-olds play in the first team of Madrid? The road is long and I am convinced of myself. Work hard, learn more in every game, and make more minutes. My goal is clear: I want to play for Real Madrid. I do everything for that.” Many media outlets branded Ø a flop at the ripe old age of 18. But now, after his breakout year at Vitesse, Odegaard is hungry for more minutes, at a higher level, to prove he can continue to be a protagonist and one day fulfill Florentino’s prophecy by becoming one of the stars of Real Madrid.
Odegaard’s path may be less traveled, but it also may be the sporting model for the future. Madrid secured his services for €4 million and, by continuing to loan him out and develop him, they keep the player on their books while he improves his value and saves Madrid from potentially having to splash over €100 million on him if they were to have let him escape to another club. In the constantly evolving post-Neymar to PSG transfer market, Madrid are no longer the lone big shark – PSG, City, and United all have roughly the same or better spending capabilities. Even Atletico Madrid look set to expend €120 million on a single player. For Madrid to continue harboring young talent, they need to provide a proven track record of developing those talents. With the ruthless demands of the Bernabeu, patience and “transition years” are hard to fathom. So how can Madrid guarantee these players a career path? Loans. Lots of loans. Loans that build on each other and encompass healthy minutes. Odegaard is carving this path. After two loans over two a half years with different Eredivisie teams, Odegaard prepares for his third loan as a more complete player. Compare his first six months at Heerenveen to his last six months at Vitesse, and you begin to see his talent truly blossom.
Rather than it be the anomaly, expect multi-year loan deals and successive loans for Madrid’s brightest talents to be a prominent tactic used by the club. Achraf Hakimi is coming into his own with a two year-stint at Dortmund. Oscar Rodriguez will continue his trajectory at Leganes for a second season. Theo Hernandez is rumored to be on the radar of Bayern Leverkusen, Napoli, and AC Milan – all of which could see a multi-year loan deal transpire. Not every loan deal will work out and not every young talent will transcend into a world beating Real Madrid elite level player, but when you can secure a Marco Asensio or Martin Odegaard for pennies on the dollar and then have their talented cultivated to a double or triple digit multi-million figure, then you are willing to take a gamble on top prospects as 1 out of every 10 or so makes the gamble worthwhile.
It has been steady improvements, year after year for Odegaard. With this patient build-up, the Norwegian is now presented with a dilemma—reports have suggested that Bayern Leverkusen and Real Sociedad are battling it out for his signature for his next loan move. This decision will be crucial – it likely will be the final step before joining the Real Madrid first team on a permanent basis. The belief of the coach and club, the system used, the culture of the club, the standard of players currently at the club, the league and options for European competition — all of these items factor into the decision and are critical to get right. Odegaard may very well spend another two years on loan, but even then he returns as a 22-year-old; seven years later and still one of the best young talents in the world. If all eventually goes to plan, the Odegaard model — once considered by the media, pundits, and casual fans as a major failure by both player and club — will be deemed an example for other clubs.