Martin Ødegaard is now 24-years-old and captaining the current leaders of the Premier League, Arsenal. In a new piece for The Players Tribune, the Norwegian revealed his happiness at finding stability in London and the reasons behind his transfer to Madrid and his overall experience at the club as a teenager:
So, why Real Madrid then? I talked about it a lot with my dad and the rest of my family. In the end, Madrid is Madrid. They were the Champions League holders with the best players in the world. Back then, I loved Isco — he was so smooth on the ball. Another one of my kind of players! But the really key thing about Madrid’s offer was that they had a B team where I could play competitive football immediately. And the manager of that team? Zinedine Zidane. It felt like the total package.
Before we officially told them, I remember sitting with my dad on the sofa watching a Real Madrid game on TV. At one point, he turned to me with his phone in his hand like, “Is it time? Should we tell them?”
We’d been speaking about the decision for so long, as it was so hard to turn down all these other amazing clubs. But then we did it.
He’d had the draft saved in his phone for like a week or two already. This really simple message.
It was something like: “Martin has decided he wants to come, if you still want him.”
I just told him, “Send it.”
Let’s talk about my presentation day.
I’m actually cringing thinking about it now … but I know a lot of people talked about this at the time. I was basically a meme. So let me clear up what happened.
They sent a plane to pick us up from Norway in the morning. Really early. So, I wake up but I’m still half asleep. My hair is all over the place. I didn’t have time to shower. I just put on whatever clothes I could grab quickly, throw something smarter into a bag and we take the flight. I figure that once I arrive at the hotel in Madrid I can get changed, take a shower, prepare myself, you know?
But then we land, we get off the plane and I realise they are taking us directly to the training ground to do the medical and then the press conference. No hotel stop.
And I’m like, Wait, we’re doing this now?
Suddenly, I’m sitting next to Madrid legend Emilio Butragueño — who’s wearing a really smart suit, of course — and they are introducing me to the world.
I know you’ve seen the pictures.
Me, in this old stripey jumper, not even showered, trying to flatten my hair with my hands.
This was the biggest day of my life, images going all over the world. I’m supposed to be this player that Real Madrid has beaten everyone to sign and I look like a random school kid they just pulled from the stadium tour.
Butragueño is introducing me and in my head I’m like:
God, I wish I’d changed my jumper.
Someone could’ve told me.
Why didn’t anyone tell me???? Hahaha!
The other thing I’m thinking about at that moment, sitting there in front of all these people, is my Confirmation. If you don’t know, it’s a common ceremony for kids in Norway to go through where you celebrate becoming an adult. I did mine when I was 15. It’s just for family and close friends and it’s normal that at the end of the event, the kid gets up to do a short speech to thank everyone for coming. Except at mine, I froze. I was too shy to speak in front of my family — the people I’m most comfortable with! I was confident on the football pitch, but speaking in front of people? No way.
One year later, I’m front and centre at a Real Madrid press conference. In this stripey jumper.
Haha can you imagine??
I was so out of my comfort zone. You can see the fear in my face.
When it’s my turn to speak, I have these big headphones on and I’m practically whispering in Norwegian like, “Uh yeah … It’s a great pleasure. Ummm, I’m very proud.…”
But in a weird way, I think that moment actually helped a lot of people’s perceptions of me. As soon as you get famous, people expect you to be a certain way. Like you’re this superhero, who can do anything. You can play football, so you also must be able to speak well, be confident, give everything of yourself at all times. But that’s not realistic.
I think that press conference helped people connect to what I was going through. I was just this shy little kid. I mean, have you met a 16-year-old recently? They felt for me and saw how normal I was.
A few days after the presentation, I went into training for the first time and, honestly, that was just surreal. I’m not old enough to drive, so my dad actually has to bring me in to play with Isco and Ronaldo and Ramos and Modric and Bale and Benzema, like he’s dropping me off at school.
All I’m thinking is about how these guys will treat me when I walk into their dressing room. This little kid who didn’t speak any Spanish. But they were all very kind, and the ones who spoke English — Kroos, Modric, Ronaldo — took extra care of me in the beginning. They gave me advice and helped me a lot. But honestly I don’t think any of them were particularly worried about a 16-year-old from Norway taking their place in the team.
We made this plan with the club that I would train every day with the first team but get regular game time with the B team. It seemed like a smart plan at the time, but it worked out that I ended up not finding my place with either group.
With the B team, I wasn’t with them regularly so I didn’t find that connection. In the first team, I was just some kid who came to train. I wasn’t involved in matches. I felt a bit like an outsider. I was stuck in between.
I stopped playing with the spark that was typical of my game. I went a bit too safe for a time. I was worrying more about not making mistakes than actually playing my game. And my game was always about making a difference. Playing the difficult pass. I can understand why it happened now. I was still a little kid, but I’ve learned that you have to be ruthless. You have to not give a f***. You have to show the real you on the pitch.
After a couple of years, I just wasn’t progressing.
The press came after me for not immediately living up to the hype. I was an easy target. If you really know me, you know I smile a lot, but I think from the outside sometimes my face looks more grumpy than I actually am! It made it easier for them to write about how I was struggling to adapt.
I remember reading a headline like: “NOW IT’S MAKE OR BREAK TIME FOR MARTIN ØDEGAARD”
And I’m like, make or break? I’m 18 years old!
Maybe If I’d been Spanish, I might have been given a bit more time to grow. Honestly, I don’t know. In the end, it’s just the nature of the hype machine. There is no in-between in modern football. You’re either the best signing in history, or you’re sh**.
Listen, I want to make it clear that I am not complaining about my time at Real Madrid. Not at all. Going to Madrid was a good thing for me. I learned so much about what it takes to reach the top. I watched, trained and learned from the best players in the world, my idols. I played at the Bernabéu. I learned to be tough and to face challenges. It’s part of who I am now. It’s the reason I’m where I am today.
But when things got tough, I never lost sight of the bigger picture. In my head I was always like, How can I change? How can I get better? Because in the end, I will never be the guy who is happy to just train at the biggest club and maybe get a few minutes here and there. I was always thinking about what I needed to do to be the best version of me I could be. That’s why I needed to move on.
The full piece from Odegaard can be accessed via the Player Tribune’s website: Link