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Martin Odegaard another victim of Real Madrid’s flawed youth policy

Odegaard has signed on loan with Arsenal for the remainder of the season

Oscar Maung-Haley
Saturday 30 January 2021 08:40 GMT
Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard
Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard (REUTERS)

While Martin Odegaard’s arrival should rightly have Arsenal fans excited, it is a very different emotion that he leaves behind at Real Madrid.

When Odegaard signed in the Spanish capital in January of 2015, his transfer from Stromsgodset was the talk of the town and with good cause.

Odegaard’s arrival was the first inkling Madrid were finally looking to move away from their traditional Galactico model, that they were at last adopting a new transfer strategy where they buy and promote youngsters and turn them into stars.

Since then the club has spent over £400m on players aged 23 or younger at their time of signing. However, of that outlay, only Ferland Mendy, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde could claim to be regular first team fixtures.

Odegaard isn't alone either. Serbian Luka Jovic, signed in 2019 for £52m, looked primed to be an early contributor after 27 goals in 48 games for Eintracht Frankfurt the previous season.

However, the move, which Jovic claimed had made him the "happiest man in the world", has quickly dissolved into a nightmare.

So far Jovic has, in 32 appearances for Madrid, scored just twice, and has now returned back to Germany on loan.

Odegaard lit La Liga on fire last term with his performances for Real Sociedad so good that they prompted Madrid to recall him after the first of his proposed two-year loan spell in San Sebastian.

But when Odegaard returned, there was no room and no defined plan for him to continue that progress.  

After playing almost exclusively as an advanced midfielder behind a striker for Sociedad, Odegaard was a square peg trying to fit into Zinedine Zidane’s 4-3-3 round hole.

After displaying that he could play at that level, Madrid effectively opted to remove him from it and stunt his growth further.

Clearly, there are flashes of supreme talent within both players but neither have been given the platform to succeed. Neither have been allowed to flourish.

Real's youth development problems are hardly new but it is hard to escape from the significance of the end of Zidane's first spell in charge and what it meant for the club's youngest players.

His exit after an unprecedented Champions League treble came with the club legend calling for change. The Frenchman then returned later that same year with seemingly the only differences being that star man Cristiano Ronaldo had gone and the core of the squad that remained were all older.

Of the players that played over 2,000 minutes in Zidane’s first season back in charge, only Mendy and Valverde made the cut, with the original old guard featuring prominently.

It should be noted that Zidane’s Champions League success will likely never be rivalled and equally, it should not be forgotten that Madrid did win La Liga last season too, albeit with some help from rivals Barcelona.

But when it comes to utilising the youngsters at his disposal, Zidane has undoubtedly come up short.

His reluctance to trust or build around these starlets may of course be justified. Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro, Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal are all still top players.

But given the outlay it seems odd that Madrid have chosen to spend so much on young players without any real idea of how to use them.

There is little doubt that Arsenal are getting a fantastic footballer in Odegaard. Last season, he was given his first real chance to shine on a regular basis in the Basque country and took it with both hands.

Whether anything will change while he is away from his parent club for a second time is a lot less clear.

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