Many football fans will be surprised to hear that Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard is still only 23 years old given the twists and turns that have already occurred in his eight years playing professional football.
In 2014, 15-year-old Odegaard was thrust into the limelight, having become the youngest player to represent the Norwegian national team. He had scored three goals and provided five assists in the Norwegian first division for Stromsgodset in just sixteen appearances. This led to the youngster becoming a household name as he became Europe’s most sought-after wonderkid, appearing on every big club’s radar.
Real Madrid would win the race to sign the future star in January 2015 for a reported €4million. Odegaard said “it’s a dream come true,” and that it was “a bit unreal that (he was) at the biggest club in the world”, whilst his father would also get a role coaching in the youth setup.
It seemed like a win-win for both parties. Real Madrid had signed a future Galactico for a relatively low fee and a young Odegaard was at his dream club.
However, it rarely is that simple in football. Odegaard was in a new country, under intense media scrutiny and had the weight of an £80,000-a-week salary at just 16-years-old.
Real Madrid is not a team well known for bedding in youngsters, frequently spending eye-watering fees for players rather than developing them. Therefore, the reality for Odegaard was that if he was not good enough to play for the first team, he would have to go elsewhere to get top-flight experience.
That led to the next six years, where Odegaard was stuck in the Real Madrid reserves and loan system, spending time in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen and Vitesse Arnhem, La Liga with Real Sociedad and then in the Premier League with Arsenal.
Odegaard was largely unremarkable in his two years for Heerenveen, netting just three goals and providing four assists. However, the first glimpses of Odegaard’s star potential started to show in 2018/19 for Vitesse, where he notched 21 goal contributions and 10 man-of-the-match awards in 35 appearances.
Rune Marthinsen, long-time friend of the Odegaard family, said “it was a big mistake at Real Madrid” but that “it says something about his character and personality he was able to rise up again after he took a step back in Madrid.”
These mental attributes have been what separated Odegaard from other past wonderkids who failed to live up to such high expectations, such as Bojan Krkic, Ravel Morrison and Hachim Mastour, who all couldn’t deal with the pressure placed upon them in their youth.
Not only did Odegaard have immense technical ability from a young age, he was also tactically very smart. In May 2022, Jamie Redknapp branded Odegaard as “a manager on the pitch.” This sentiment was echoed by the Norwegian national team manager, Ståle Solbakken, who said: “He knows what is best for the team and he can bring the messages, tactics and ideas of the coach onto the field”.
Solbakken made Odegaard the captain of the national team a year before Arteta did the same for Arsenal.
Odegaard has repaid Arteta’s faith with his performances so far this season. In 13 appearances, Odegaard is the Gunners’ top scorer with six goals and is a key factor in Arsenal’s surprising brilliance this season, leading to them sitting top of the Premier League.