Martin Ødegaard: What happened?

In 2014, a 15-year-old was lighting up the Norwegian Tippeligaen like never before. A youngster technically gifted far beyond his years, boasting exceptional pace and balance with the potential to be world class. Where is that 15-year-old now? After joining Real Madrid in 2015, he languished in the clubs reserve side for two years before being shipped out on loan to Eredivise side SC Heerenveen, a far cry from the Santiago Bernabéu and the heights of the Champions League. Where did it all go wrong for Martin Ødegaard? We, Rush Football, take a look…

Pressure

One reason cited for his fall from grace is the level of expectation put upon him at such a young age. Prior to his arrival at Real Madrid in January 2015, the Norwegian youngster had already been tipped to reach the top. He had attended trials at a host of elite sides including Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Manchester United, all of which were desperate for his signature. In the media, he had been likened to David Silva, Lionel Messi and even Cristiano Ronaldo with the Bleacher Report labelling Ødegaard as Ronaldo’s ‘natural heir’. Numerous players had spoken out about his ability including fellow countryman Morten Gamst Pedersen who described him as the most talented player he had ever seen.

This is all too common when a young player demonstrates exceptional talent at a young age. Take Freddy Adu for example, once dubbed the next Pelé, the now 28-year-old is a free agent. The expectation from the media for a young prodigy to perform consistently at a high level is unbearable for most, with each mistake they make scrutinised. Due to this, many players lack confidence becoming shadows of the players they once were and falling way short of their potential. Combine this with his hefty price tag and £80,000-a-week wage and it’s easy to see why the young Norwegian has struggled to progress.

Cultural Differences / Joining the Wrong Club

Joining a new club is daunting, especially when you’re moving overseas, you do not speak the language and the squad you are joining does not have a single player from the same country as you. This was exactly Martin Ødegaard’s scenario. Ødegaard began his career at Drammen Strong where his Father, Hans Erik Ødegaard, a former professional footballer was the coach of his team. When he was 13 he joined Strømsgodset who are also located in the city of Drammen, where he progressed through the clubs youth system.

Prior to his move to Spain, he had never ventured out of his comfort zone having always played in his hometown of Drammen surrounded by friends and family. Whilst a move to Real Madrid is a dream come true for a 16-year-old, to move to an entirely new environment with such high expectation around him and then be expected to continue where they left off, is ludicrous. A much wiser move would’ve been to Ajax. The Dutch side has a very impressive record of developing young players such as Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Dennis Bergkamp to a name a few. They would have provided him with the support and coaching required to nurture him into the world class player he could have become. We can’t help but think Real Madrid was the wrong decision, a decision he may come to rue in the future. 

He wasn’t as good as he was made out to be

The difference in quality between Norway’s top tier, the Tippeligaen, and La Liga is substantial to say the least. The speed at which the game is played is incomparable and mistakes are more frequently punished in La Liga. In June 2016, an excerpt from then Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti’s book claimed that Ødegaard was not signed because of his ability, rather as a publicity signing instigated by Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez. The former Bayern Munich manager said “He could be the best player in the world, but I don’t care because he was not a player who I asked for. That signing was to do with PR.” The arrival of Ødegaard at Real Madrid was broadcast across the world, earning the club millions of pounds. It is quite possible that as the media storm grew around him, so did talk of his ability and potential.

There is hope yet

What is often forgotten is that Martin Ødegaard is only 18-years-old. An 18-year-old that is currently starting frequently and performing well for an established top flight Eredivisie side. While his development may have stalled in comparison to the expectation place upon him and the potential we are all well aware that he possesses, the Norwegian international still has a very long way to go in his career. That’s why us here at Rush Football aren’t writing him off just yet.

Enjoy this article? Why not check out the next Jamie Vardy, three non-league gems to keep an eye on?

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