The biggest football talent in Norwegian football, Martin Ødegaard, has made yet another loan move away from Real Madrid. It could be his biggest season to date.
As a 16-year-old, Martin Ødegaard was the name on the lips of every football fan (or at least, those who could pronounce his name) when he signed for Spanish giants Real Madrid.
It brought to the end months of speculation on who the Strømsgodset star would sign for, with Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City all said to be interested.
Since then, Ødegaard has made just one appearance for Real Madrid. Instead, he has been loaned out three times. Firstly to two Dutch sides, SC Heerenveen (2017/18) and Vitesse Arnhem (2018/19). This season he stays closer to home with a move to Madrid's La Liga rivals Real Sociedad.
Born in Drammen, Ødegaard is the son of former Norwegian footballer Hans Erik Ødegaard, who played as a midfielder for Strømsgodset and Sandefjord. He was still attending a local lower secondary school when he made his professional debut for his home town club, Strømsgodset.
He began training with the first team at the age of just 13, and made his league debut at the age of just 15 years and 118 days, becoming the youngest ever player to play in the Norwegian football league.
The dream move to Real Madrid
Following the big move to Spain, the BBC reported that Ødegaard “says it is not important whether he plays for the first or second team, believing Real Madrid is the best place for him to develop both on and off the pitch.”
It was indeed the second team where Ødegaard spent much of his time, scoring five times in 62 appearances for the ‘Castilla”. Despite playing for the reserve side, he spent much of the time training with the first team.
Opportunities were limited, but he did become the club's youngest ever debutant when he replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in a La Liga game against Getafe. His only full appearance for the first team came in a Copa del Rey match against lower league side Cultural Leonesa.
Pundits were impressed with his performance but it was Zinedine Zidane's son Enzo who stole the headlines with a goal on his senior debut.
Heerenveen in the Dutch league
In January 2017, Ødegaard joined Dutch top flight side SC Heerenveen to get regular first team football in a competitive league. “It was a good chance to play,” former Norway international Tore Pederson told the New York Times. “The culture is similar in Holland to Norway, so it is easier to settle, and Heerenveen has a good record with Scandinavian players.”
Although he started poorly, the Norwegian has featured throughout the 2017-18 season and become a regular starter. His form earned him a recall to the Norwegian national team, but some Dutch pundits have stated that he has shown only glimpses of his true ability.
“It's his first year in top-level football and while he has shown that he can be a game changer, it's also true to say that he lacks something,” the Norwegian journalist Arilas Ould-Saada told GiveMeSport. “He's not the finished product which can deliver goals and assists.”
A second Dutch adventure
At the start of the 2018/19, Ødegaard made another move to the Dutch league and signed a season-long loan deal with Vitesse Arnhem. It was a move that gave him the opportunity to build on his previous season in Eredivisie, with Heerenveen, and further develop his talent trough regular game time.
His single season at Vitesse was a hugely successful one for Ødegaard. The midfielder finished the season with ten goals in 35 appearances (league and cup) and even picked up the club's player of the year award from the fans.
A return to La Liga
In July 2019, Ødegaard moved to Real Sociedad on loan for the season. It's his most intriguing move to date and provides a real opportunity with the eyes of Madrid on him.
If the Norwegian youngster can perform on one of the biggest stages in world football, it could jolt his parent club into giving him a chance. Failing that, it could bring about a permanent transfer to another big club in Europe.
Thus far, things have started well for Ødegaard at Sociedad. He has started both games for the La Liga club and has looked bright and confident in possession. The midfielder even managed to score his first La Liga goal in only his second start for the club.
Ødegaard and the national team
Ødegaard also holds the record as Norway's youngest ever national team player. At 15 years and 253 days, he played the full 90 minutes in a friendly against the UAE in Stavanger. He made his competitive debut as a substitute in the 2-1 win over Bulgaria, becoming the youngest ever player to play in a European Championship qualifier.
Six months later, Ødegaard became the youngest player to start a European Championship qualifier at the age of just 16 years and 101 days, although it wasn't a happy experience as Norway were well beaten 5-1 by Croatia.
Since then, Ødegaard has become an important part of the national team setup. His composure on the ball and the dribbling technique he possesses has claimed many a victim. In 2019, he scored his first international goal, a determined effort in Norway's 2-2 home draw with Romania.
Why is Ødegaard such a promising player?
An article in the Liverpool Echo described Ødegaard as “an attack-minded midfielder very much in the modern mould. Diminutive, quick-footed, with natural balance, pace and, perhaps surprisingly for one so young, excellent shooting power”.
Whether Ødegaard manages to live up to his undoubted potential remains to be seen. At the age of 20, much depends on what happens during his third loan.
Ødegaard is improving in every game he plays, and now he is back in one of Europe's elite leagues, the eyes of the world will again be on him. His season-long loan at Real Sociedad could prove to be one of the most decisive in the young Norwegian's career so far.