Martin Odegaard’s decision to choose Real Madrid over Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal, among others, came down to many factors. Zinedine Zidane giving the 16-year-old Norwegian the guided tour was one of them, Real’s new-found obsession with developing their own Ballon d’Or instead of buying one every summer was another.
If there is one thing that antagonises Real it is that they never seem to get the boy wonder. They never spot the schoolboy who ends up as the best player in the world.
Back in 2006 a 14-year-old Neymar had a two-week trial at the club. They failed to follow through on their interest and the next time they tried to sign him he was seven years older and it would have cost them €150m to gazump Barcelona.
Having missed out on Neymar, and never having had a chance with the teenage Lionel Messi, the determination to sign the next teenage phenomenon before he is commanding a record fee meant nothing was too much when Odegaard came to see them this month.
He trained not with the B-team youngsters who he will play alongside in the second half of this season but with the first team; Real president, Florentino Perez turned up to watch the session; Zidane personally gave him the tour of the club’s facilities; and recently-crowned Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo took time out to chat with him. His team-mates at Stromsgodset told Norwegian television: “Ronaldo told him ‘in a couple of years I won’t be scoring as many goals, so you’ll have to score them’.”
His father, Hans Erik Odegaard, a former player and coach in Norway, has been offered a job in Real’s youth academy as part of the deal that should see Odegaard sign a six-year contract today. And assurances have been given about next season.
Real Madrid Castilla – the club’s youth team – currently play in the third division which will not be a problem if coach Zidane guides them to promotion to the second tier at the end of this season. But if they fail to go up, Odegaard will become Carlo Ancelotti’s concern, not Zidane’s. The Spanish third tier is no place for a full international. He will be fast-tracked towards a first-team debut. Messi made his aged 17 years and 114 days. Odegaard will be 17 this December.
His father has done him proud on this European tour, checking out the pile on each and every red carpet and trying to manage his son’s career as best as he can. There is clearly risk for any young player joining Madrid; although it is lessened because of this new-found obsession with developing their own superstar. The risk is also Real’s, who are spending around £3m on the attacking midfielder. In their next two fixtures they face two players: Bebe and Sergio Canales, who both serve as reminders that careers don’t always go as planned.
It was always forecast that Bebe would face Real Madrid one day, but in a Manchester United shirt in a Champions League game, not for Cordoba on loan from Benfica as will be the case on Saturday. Five years have passed since Sir Alex Ferguson signed him from Vitoria Guimaraes for £7.4m without having seen him play.
Canales signed for Real when he was 18 years old for £4m only for injury and a lack of opportunities to prevent him every making it at the Bernabeu. He will face Madrid the week after for David Moyes’ Real Sociedad.
Bebe remains a case apart, but Canales is a more common tale. Odegaard is a huge talent and Real have treated him like royalty to help convince him to sign but as a projected Real Madrid line-up for the year 2020 published in Marca this week reminded everyone: nothing is guaranteed – Odegaard wasn’t in the XI.Reuse content