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Between 2014 and 2015, Martin Ødegaard was the name on every football fan’s lips — at least, those who could pronounce his name. He reached peak stardom when he took the number 21 jersey for Spanish giants Real Madrid. 

But Martin Ødegaard’s journey was not a cakewalk. The young man had to endure adversity, rejection, and dejection to become the fantastic footballer and role model we know today.

This is the extraordinary story of Martin Ødegaard, the YouTube sensation who became an amazing footballer.

Who is Martin Ødegaard?

Martin Ødegaard is a Norwegian professional footballer who currently plays as an attacking midfielder for Arsenal and the Norway national team. Nicknamed ‘El-Rey’, the Norwegian superstar was born in Drammen on December 17, 1998. 

Source: Daily Mail

He spent his formative years with the local sports team, Drammen Strong. His dad, Hans Erik Ødeegaard — a former football player and co-founder of the club’s football section — was the coach of his son’s team. 

When Martin Ødegaard was six years old, his parents and other investors contributed 50,000 kroner each to help the neighbourhood club replace the gravel field with synthetic turf. This was essential to Ødegaard’s growth since he spent so much time on the field. 

Marting Ødegaard’s Early Career

In 2009, Ødegaard joined the Strømsgodset youth department, where he played and trained with older lads. The Norwegian Football Federation also organized young players in regional district teams, and at age 11, Ødegaard participated in his first games for the Buskerud squad. 

Early on, Ødegaard primarily played at left-back because the coaches thought that would offer him a good experience with many ball touches while still playing against guys who were physically much stronger. 

At 13, he started playing with the Strømsgodset first squad in 2012. The following year, he made his first-team debut in a mid-season friendly matchup against rivals Mjøndalen IF. 

Martin Odegaard at 16

This was when he started catching the interest of clubs like Manchester United and Bayern Munich. 

At 14, Ødegaard played for both Strømsgodset’s junior team and the club’s third team.  Although he didn’t sign a professional contract, he was promoted to the first team in January 2014 at the age of 15. 

To be eligible for up to three games per season, the club placed Ødegaard on the “B-list” for amateur players. Since he was still enrolled in his mandatory schooling, Ødegaard could not train with Strømsgodset during the day.  

Going Pro at 16

Martin Ødegaard signed a professional contract on May 5, 2014, and scored his first professional goal in a 4-1 home victory over Sarpsborg 08, setting a new Tippeligaen record for the youngest goalscorer. 

He debuted in Europe in the 1-0 loss at home to Steaua București in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League.

With Ødegaard’s 5 goals and 7 assists in 23 league games, Strømsgodset finished fourth in the league and qualified for the UEFA Europa League first qualifying round. In December 2014, during the Norwegian off-season, he trained with the first teams at Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal.

Source: CNN

Ødegaard became the youngest player to represent Norway at senior level when he started against the United Arab Emirates, aged 15 years and 253 days. The previous record had stood since 1910, when Tormod Kjellsen made his debut aged 15 years and 351 days. 

By this time, Ødegaard was already a YouTube sensation owing to his impressive quality with the ball.

The Road To Real Madrid

On January 21, 2015, after training with the senior team earlier in the month, Real Madrid reached an agreement to sign Ødegaard from Strømsgodset for a fee close to €3 million. According to Norwegian media, the final fee was 35 million kroner, or around €4 million. 

Martin Ødegaard signs for Real Madrid
Source: Tribuna

After the deal, Real Madrid held a news conference to reveal that Ødegaard will train with both the club’s main squad and the reserves, Real Madrid Castilla. The latter group, led at the time by Zinedine Zidane, would be the one he would play for. 

The world waited to see if the Norwegian wunderkind would hit the ground running like a true Galactico.

Becoming a Galactico

Ødegaard took squad number 21, making his official Castilla debut on February 8 in the final 20 minutes of the 2-2 draw against Athletic Bilbao B. He scored his first goal for the Castilla in the club’s 4-0 victory over Barakaldo CF. 

On 29 April, he was included in Real Madrid’s matchday squad for the first time due to injuries to Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić, and Karim Benzema. However, he did not feature in the 3–0 victory. 

During the 2015–16 season, Ødegaard started games for Castilla regularly. He received plaudits on April 17, 2016, for his performance in a 3-0 home victory over SD Gernika Club, which included winning a penalty kick that Mariano converted. 

Ødegaard made his full Real Madrid debut on November 30, 2016, 679 days after joining the team in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. Madrid defeated Cultural Leonesa 6-1, and he played the full 90 minutes.

Martin Ødegaard made history as Real Madrid’s youngest player to play in La Liga at 16 years, five months, and six days old. He entered the game as a substitute, replacing the mighty Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabéu. 

Martin Ødegaard coming on for Ronaldo at the Bernabeu
Source: BeSoccer

To many fans, this was the seminal moment — a passing of the torch ceremony. After the debut, Ødegaard’s shirt sold more than Ronaldo’s.

The Dream is Derailed

Ødegaard was dropped from the Castilla in April after a run of four losses. Carlo Ancelotti pleaded with supporters to have patience while Ødegaard adjusts to life in a foreign land. 

This was the first red flag. It is never a good sign when the coach asks for patience with a player. Another glaring red flag was the noticeable difference in physicality with other players—which was no surprise considering how young Ødegaard was at the time.

Then came the dark periods. Under the reign of Rafael Benitez and Zinedine Zidane, Ødegaard had little to no playing time. He was finally loaned out to SC Heerenveen.

Four days after joining the club on loan, he made his Eredivisie debut in the dying embers of the game against ADO Den Haag. 

With only one shot and one assist in his first seven games for Heerenveen, he had a dismal start to his career there and was eventually restricted to the bench by manager Jurgen Streppel.

Martin Odegaard smiling as a Vitesse player
Source: FotMob

At the start of the 2018/19 season, Ødegaard moved to Vitesse Arnhem on loan for another season in Eredivisie to further develop his talent through regular game time. His single season at Vitesse was hugely successful, finishing the season with 11 goals and 12 assists and even picking up the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ award from the fans.

Despite these small wins, the media’s coverage of Ødegaard’s time in the Eredivisie was less than favourable. Rumors started going out to the press that he wasn’t as good as the internet had initially thought. Maybe the pressure of becoming a Galactico had gotten to his head.

Martin Ødegaard’s Revival At The Other Real

Ødegaard joined Real Sociedad on loan in July 2019. His first few games were remarkable, with goals and assists to crown the amazing performances as the La Liga player of the month. 

In a funny twist of fate, Ødegaard scored against his parent club, Real Madrid, knocking them out in the quarterfinals of the 2019–20 Copa del Rey. His performance earned him a standing ovation from the stunned Real Madrid supporters. 


Was this the start of his comeback? Could he keep up these performances?

Real Sociedad’s sixth-place finish in La Liga earned them a spot in the 2020–21 UEFA Europa League, and Ødegaard had a successful season. They wanted to keep Ødegaard for a second season, but Real Madrid recalled him.  

Ødegaard started Madrid’s opening game of the 2020–21 La Liga season. On 25 November, he made his Champions League debut for Real Madrid in a 2–0 away win over Inter Milan.

However, despite starting some games early in the 2020-21 season, the Norwegian struggled to keep his place in the team.

Martin Ødegaard Joins The English Premier League

With Modric, Casemiro, and Kroos being practically undroppable, there was no place for the budding Ødegaard in the Real Madrid lineup. 

Another loan move followed, this time to the English Premier League. On 27 January 2021, Ødegaard joined Arsenal on loan until the end of the season. 

He scored his first goal for Arsenal in a 3-1 away victory over Olympiacos—which won the Goal of the Month for March. Next followed his first Premier League goal in a 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby. 

During his loan spell at Arsenal, we saw a revitalized Martin Ødegaard. He had grown a lot physically and oozed sheer confidence and class.

Source: Sky Sports

At the end of the season, he returned briefly to Madrid, who decided to sell him permanently to Arsenal for the 2021-22 season. 

Arsenal announced the permanent signing of Ødegaard on August 20, 2021, for a reported fee of €35 million, with potential add-ons totalling perhaps €40 million. 

The Madrid reject played with renewed vigour throughout that season. We could see that he belonged at the very top. Those skills we used to watch on YouTube, the smiles we loved to see, they were all on full display at the Emirates.

Martin Ødegaard: Captain Fantastic

Arteta named Ødegaard the new captain of Arsenal ahead of the 2022–23 season after the departures of former club captain Pierre–Emerick Aubameyang and acting captain Alexandre Lacazette.

Ødegaard debuted as captain during Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the club’s season opener. He scored twice in the opening 11 minutes of a victory away to AFC Bournemouth on August 21, 2022. 

People questioned this decision since Ødegaard lacked the typical “shouting field commander” vibe of previous captains. However, he showed excellent leadership by dragging his team to a comeback victory over Fulham. 

Martin Odegaard as Arsenal captain

In March 2021, Ødegaard was appointed the captain of the Norway national team by the manager, Ståle Solbakken. He now leads a generation of Norwegian talents, which includes Erling Haaland, Kristoffer Klaesson, Patrick Berg, Alexander Sorloth, and others.

Ødegaard also spear-headed Arsenal’s remarkable 2022/2023 run for the title against the indomitable Manchester City. His leadership skills were on full display as they gave the champs a run for their money. Ultimately, they lost out in the final days of the season.

What Does The Future Hold For Martin Ødegaard?

After a tough start to life as a professional footballer, the Norwegian reject is turning into the pillar of an exceptional Arsenal team. 

Odegaard captains Norway
Source: Team Talk

If injuries don’t come into play, I believe Ødegaard will captain Norway to a historic run at the Euros before he retires. 

As for Arsenal, their chances of winning the league hinge on Martin Ødegaard delivering 8/10 performances alongside Saka and Martinelli—and Pep Guardiola leaving City.

Until then, let’s just enjoy the remarkable career of a young man who was thrown into the deep waters but emerged as Captain Fantastic.

Who wrote this?

Okpanku has been involved in several disputes that have been brought before the FIFA Tribunal. Additionally, he actively engages in grassroots coaching and strongly advocate for the dynamic nature of football.

Okpanku Chijioke
Okpanku has been involved in several disputes that have been brought before the FIFA Tribunal. Additionally, he actively engages in grassroots coaching and strongly advocate for the dynamic nature of football.

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