There’s been a misguided and unfair narrative of Martin Ødegaard getting his career ‘back on track’ this season. Already a senior international player by the age of 15 and grabbing headlines all over the world, Spanish media erupted when Real Madrid signed the Norwegian prodigy at the tender age of 16 years (and one month) back in January 2015.
Since then, Ødegaard has gone on to make only one start for Los Blancos and has spent the previous two seasons on loan playing in the top division in the Netherlands, making unfulfilled potential a common theme among Spanish media when discussing the youngster.
The 20-year-old is now plying his trade with Real Sociedad, at the beginning of a two-year loan spell that some view as his attempt to ‘rebuild’ his career. While it’s true that the well-rounded midfielder hasn’t been able to play his way into the Madrid squad, Ødegaard has been a revelation in the Basque country, and so far this year has been one of the strongest candidates for La Liga Player of the Season, and has just picked up the league’s Player of the Month award for September.
Despite being so young, new to this squad of players, and only in his first full La Liga season, Ødegaard has already proven himself a leader in the side and one of the first names on the team sheet. Performances this season have shown us moments of magic, sheer brilliance, as well as a gritty edge necessary to make oneself counted in the midfield battles.
One moment during La Real’s week six clash with Alavés took the world’s breath away, erasing any remaining doubt that this is a serious player ready to produce today, and not some former promising youth of wasted talent. The Norwegian starlet evaded a chasing marker to pick up a pass to feet in midfield, before making a fool of the hugely experienced defensive midfielder Tomas Piña with a neat nutmeg to give himself the space to make a pass that cut four helpless Alavés defenders completely out of the game.
The incredible pass found its way to the onrushing Mikel Oyarzabal who couldn’t miss the target. Real Sociedad were 1-0 up, and as is becoming routine, Ødegaard had a large part to play in his team finding the lead. The goal could be a contender for goal of the season solely due to the quality of the assist.
Their previous home game was the opening of their newly remodelled Anoeta stadium, now going under the name of Reale Arena, where the Basques played host to Atlético Madrid, one of the toughest teams in world football. Ødegaard showed leadership, vision, and ability in one of Real Sociedad’s most impressive performances in recent times and opened the scoring with a fantastic controlling touch to find enough space to get his shot off at the edge of the box. Against Simeone’s warriors, he dominated the midfield and conducted the pace of the game that his side eventually won 2-0.
Ødegaard needed to prove his strength against Atleti, a team known for their aggressive style of play which he more than proved capable of matching. Another micro-moment showcasing his outstanding array of talents came in the Alavés game, when he attempted a slick first touch turn against Manu García, who anticipated the movement. The Norwegian showed his strength and grit to fight his opponent off the ball, retain control, and give a pass to a teammate. It was an unspectacular piece of play that most watching the match have probably already forgotten about, but it was a momentary view of an extraordinary player’s ambition and determination in action.
At Real Sociedad, Ødegaard is playing on the right-hand side of a midfield three, but has also featured in some games in a number 10 position, behind a lone striker. He looks to come short to find space to collect passes to feet from his defenders and other midfielders. He already displays an impressive level of maturity to read the games he’s involved in, knowing when best to recycle possession, and when he can push his side further up the field. In one player, he can act as a team’s number 6, 8, and 10 in the same game.
When looking forward and imposing directness and verticality into the game, he is capable of masterfully shifting the direction of his body in nimble moves, setting himself up for a pass to either wing or through a gap in defenders in the middle. His through passing vision is second to none in Spain at the moment, and if he builds a good understanding with fellow Scandinavian Alexander Isak who also joined La Real in the summer, the results could prove deadly.
Ødegaard has spent the last couple of seasons away from Spain on loan, giving the local media the impression that he had somehow gone away; the early promise as one of Norway’s youngest internationals quickly fading. The reality was he was just a gifted 18-year-old in need of first team football in a competitive and technical league where he could develop his ability and physicality.
Without a chance to play senior football falling his way in the Real Madrid reserves, what point is there staying in the Spanish capital and risking stagnating his development? He may not have yet been able to force his way into the Madrid team, but if he keeps his current pace up he might just find himself one of the first names in the starting XI once his stint up north comes to an end.