Opinion – Where does Martin Odegaard go from here?
The Norwegian hotshot once again finds himself feeling dispensable at Real Madrid, pondering whether he should call it a day at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Odegaard found himself becoming a transfer priority for Arsenal this summer having spent the second half of last season on loan with the north London club.
But keen to realise his Real Madrid dream six years after arriving in the Spanish capital as football’s next big thing, Odegaard made it clear where his future lay early in the summer.
“Of course it has always been a dream to play there,” he said of Real Madrid.
“I have been in the club for over six years now, and that has always been the goal. I always want to play, I have said that all the time. Playing hard is important.”
Fast-forward a month or so and Odegaard is not all that far away from where he found himself when he requested a January loan move to Arsenal.
The Norwegian thought he would get an opportunity last season having put together one of the best individual seasons in La Liga across the previous campaign with Real Sociedad, racking up seven goals and nine assists across all competitions.
But just seven La Liga appearances and three starts saw him tell Zinedine Zidane he wanted a loan move, a decision the French boss did not agree with.
Zidane thought Odegaard should have shown the character required at Real Madrid, to stay and fight for his place.
Determined to play regularly, Odegaard was having none of it, and he went on to enjoy another successful loan spell.
He didn’t match the levels set in his La Real stint, Arsenal struggling on the whole as they missed out on European qualification and lost Europa League semi-final to Villarreal.
But the flashes he did show were enough to convince Arsenal, who remain in need of a creative midfielder and remain keen on a move for Odegaard this summer.
Real Madrid might just be willing, too, with Marca reporting Los Blancos will consider offers for players who want to leave, as long as there is a fair offer for them.
With that in mind, a €50million fee has been mentioned, but the decision is Odegaard’s, and it’s quite the dilemma.
Carlo Ancelotti would, no doubt, like Odegaard to be part of his squad, but as the midfielder has worked out for himself from the pre-season friendlies so far, the returning Italian boss is likely to follow his predecessor in sticking with the veterans.
Ancelotti is very likely to play a 4-3-3, and the three midfield spaces will almost certainly be given to Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Odegaard will once again find himself on the periphery, trying to break in, and he knows he can skip that step at Arsenal, where he would become a near-guaranteed starter.
But does the 22-year-old drop down a level, miss out on European football and for a team who are not close to competing for a title? Or does he risk being resorted to football off the bench and compete for both the La Liga title and the Champions League?
For a little longer, at least, it should be the latter, but Real Madrid have a job to do.
It’s no secret that Ancelotti will likely rely on the tried and tested for his first season back, at least initially.
But with Modric out of contract next season and Kroos no spring chicken at 31, this is the time the phase Odegaard into the team.
The problem is that, so far, Real Madrid have given the youngster absolutely no reason to stick around, no genuine hope of a starting role.
At this stage in his career, Odegaard needs to play, and after six years on the periphery, he needs to feel wanted.
Reports from ABC on Monday of an Ancelotti meeting with the midfielder to tell him he will be an ‘important’ part of his plans and that ‘he will have opportunities’ is a good start.
But if Real Madrid want to keep their ultra-talented 22-year-old, they must now throw the weight of their backing behind him.
It’s time for Ancelotti to make it publicly clear that Odegaard will play a key role, and a new contract would not go amiss, with the Norway international out of contract in just two years.
With Arsenal already making Odegaard feel like an important player, highlighting him as a priority this summer, it’s time for Real Madrid to show him he is an important part of their future, and not just through their trusted newspapers.
If Los Blancos fail to do that, they can have absolutely no complaints if Odegaard decides to walk away and become a key part of another project.
It has been six years of promises, of Real Madrid making plans on behalf of the midfielder, telling him that some day his day will come.
Now it is time for Odegaard to grab the situation by the horns, to prove himself, yes, but to ensure he is at a club where he is valued and where he is given genuine opportunities to show what he is worth.