Martin Odegaard had kept European football’s biggest clubs waiting for months while he weighed-up exactly where his promising future lay, so those who gathered at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training base to see his unveiling as the European champions’ latest star signing could wait a little longer.
The Norwegian wonderkid was over an hour late to his official presentation at the Spanish giants’ training ground to the north-east of the city but president Florentino Perez will be hoping the patience shown in luring the 16-year-old to the Santiago Bernabeu ahead of clubs including Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich will be worth it.
The Liga leaders announced they had finally signed the Scandinavian sensation just after midnight on Wednesday. He flew to the Spanish capital with his family and took his medical on Thursday morning before being presented to a packed press room.
Odegaard has been the most sought-after talent in Europe since breaking onto the scene with Stromsgodset only nine months ago and Madrid did not want to miss out on securing the services of the man of the moment. He is the first Norwegian ever to play for the ten-times European champions and the fee is reported to be in excess of €3 million.
He turned 16 only last month and has just one senior season under his belt in the Norwegian Premier League but his talents have been exceptional enough to force a huge scrum from Europe’s biggest clubs to ensure those talents are showcased in their colours. Madrid won the race. Ahead of Barcelona, ahead of Bayern and ahead of over 30 other clubs who had enquired to Stromsgodset about signing him.
Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had hoped the Bavarian club were the “best looking groom” for a player he described as a “beautiful bride” and for a while it looked as though the German giants would get their man. It turns out Madrid were the most attractive option for a player who is the youngest ever to be capped for Norway and the youngest to have featured in the European Championships qualifying match.
“It’s a dream come true,” said football’s hottest young prospect as he walked out in front of over a hundred journalists from around the world and dozens of flashing cameras. “It’s unbelievable and it’s incredible, I’m ready for the best club in the world - it’s an honour.”
Odegaard, who has remained cool and calm while travelling around Europe to assess his options, says he is not feeling any pressure. Maybe that will kick in when he trains with Madrid’s first team stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who he describes as “the best player in the world at the moment”, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.
He will initially play for Castilla, the club’s second team in the third-tier of Spanish football. His coach, Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane, scored twice in Paris as France won the 1998 World Cup - five months before Odegaard was even born. The Frenchman had a big pull for his fellow countryman Raphael Varane and to have such an icon coaching him at Castilla was a big advantage for Madrid.
“If [Carlo] Ancelotti wants to use me for the first team I’ll be really happy, and if he doesn’t I’ll play for Castilla and I’ll be happy as well,” said Odegaard, who believes the set-up in the Spanish capital will only help his progression into one of the world’s best players. “It’s an advantage to have a second team with a coach who has been one of the best players in the world, with an amazing team with a lot of quality, it was important,” he said. “I see this as the best option to develop, I feel at home, I think it’s the best option for me.”
Odegaard’s progression has been rapid. He made his debut under Ronny Deila, now manager at Celtic, for Stromsgodset as a substitute in a 2-0 victory last April. He was 15 years and 177 days old, a new record in Norway. A month later he scored his first goal in a 4-1 win against Sarpsborg. At 15 years and 253 days old he became the youngest international for Norway and just 47 days later he became the youngest to play in a European Championship qualifying match.
His father Hans Erik, a former Stromsgodset player and coach in Norway, has been a big influence in his career so far and he will form part of Real Madrid’s technical staff in the lower age ranks. “My father has been a very good coach, he’s been important for me, I think that’s what helped me reach this point,” he said.
Odegaard, a left-footed attacking midfielder who likes to operate on the right or just off the striker, may not be feeling the pressure but the pressure is on to impress. The battle to sign him has been long, arduous and akin to Madrid chasing their ‘Galacticos’ and although the Santiago Bernabeu can inspire, it can also be daunting. Madrid need to take special care of a player who has shone like few others at just 15 years of age.
“We have no doubt you’ll have a lot of success at Real Madrid,” said Emilio Butragueno, the club’s director of institutional relations. “It’s an honour to welcome you to Real Madrid, you’re a player of extraordinary talent and one in which we have a lot of hope.” He added: “We are going to do everything we can so you and your family are happy in Madrid and develop the wonderful talent you have as a player.”
Odegaard has already trained with Ancelotti and the first team and will continue to do so this week. Castilla, joint-top of Segunda Division B, host Fuenlabrada at Valdebebas on Sunday and although the third division game is a world away from the games he, and Madrid, want him starring in, it will be the first step on a long and exciting ladder for one of football’s brightest talents.Reuse content