Still four months from his 18th birthday, there is plenty of time for Martin Odegaard’s career to get back on track but the feeling that he took a wrong turn when he moved to Real Madrid in January 2015 continues to grow.
It’s been another bad week for the teenage Galatico who, 20 months on from his star-treatment presentation at Real Madrid, still finds himself playing in the club’s B-team to empty stadiums in the footballing backwater that is Spain’s regional third division.
On Tuesday night he was largely anonymous as Marcus Rashford ran riot and England’s Under-21s beat Norway 6-1 at Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium.
And returning to Spain on Wednesday he was welcomed by headlines asking whatever happened to ‘Boy Wonder’ – Diario AS picking-up on German paper Die Welt’s feature on the midfielder’s problems in Spain.
It’s not just a failure to breakthrough anymore. Odegaard appears to be going backwards. Although he was a full Norwegian international when Real Madrid signed him from Strømsgodset, he now finds himself playing at youth level again.
He is still only 17 but Rashford is only a year older. After his three goals for Gareth Southgate’s team he could be in line for a start in the Manchester derby at the weekend. At Madrid Odegaard is nowhere near the first team.
He has been given a Champions League squad number as part of the reserve pool of players Zinedine Zidane can call on. But with an overwhelming surplus of attacking midfielders – caused by the emergence of 20-year-old Marco Asensio and the failure to move on either Isco or James Rodriguez – Odegaard sees the ‘fully-booked’ sign in bright neon lighting every time he casts an envious eye towards the senior side.
All is not lost. There was a glimpse of his precocious genius in Real Madrid’s friendly defeat to PSG in the summer. A delicate nutmeg wowed supporters in Ohio but there were not enough other signs in the summer that he is ready to be fast-tracked.
Odegaard’s father Hans-Erik Odegaard met with club officials to help thrash out a temporary switch but while Borja Mayoral went on loan to Wolfsburg and Omar Mascarell to Eintracht Frankfurt, a German deal for Odegaard could not be done.
Zidane rates Odegaard but when former Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti writes in his recently published book, ‘It was a PR signing. I did not ask for it,’ it only adds to the feeling that the Norweigan was signed for commercial reasons.
A loan would have given a new lease of life and Ligue 1 side club Rennes were hoping to take him but they pulled out at the last minute citing concerns about breaking FIFA rules on underage signings.
FIFA allow players over-16 to move within the EU so the club’s concerns came as a surprise and there were rumours the problem of the player’s estimated €1.2m (£1m) wage was also a stumbling block. That is certainly what has put several Bundesliga clubs off.
For the player it was a major blow as his future continues to be dogged by constant uncertainty over where he will be playing. He must now face up to another season in Spain’s third tier – or at least another half season there. The club will try to find him a loan club again in January.
Madrid have, at least, moved to make it clear they do want him long-term by making public their desire to extend his current contract until 2021.
They had hoped that by moving him out of the country in the summer he would benefit from no longer having the spotlight on him and the tag of Madrid’s teenage Galatico. He was out of the country on Tuesday but nothing he did at the Weston Homes Community Stadium will have moved him any closer to the Santiago Bernabeu.
A move at the start of 2017, when he will be 18, is now top of his agenda. But the club’s he turned down as he picked Real Madrid over the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool are unlikely to among the takers.
‘Everything came very quickly for him,’ former Norwegian international Kjetil Rekdal told Kicker this week. ‘The Dutch League would be a good place for him to start’.
That might have made more sense in January 2015 as opposed to moving to Real Madrid.