Martin Odegaard and the burden of the 'wonderkid' tag
Wonder kids is a term used far too often in football. It is a term which fans and analysts love using. A 16 year old scores a goal in a league cup tie and all of a sudden you have a new wonder kid on the block!
In today’s age, with the commercialization of football, wonder kids tend to receive far more attention that they usually warrant. Take for example, Phil Foden. He is only 18 for Pete’s sake! He has only 6 games under his belt. While it is completely possible that he may become a top notch player in the coming years, he still has a lot more to prove.
The tag of wonder kid probably does more harm than good honestly. It creates too many expectations and brings about a sense of pressure. Just to clarify, Mbappe is an exception to this rule, like there is one for every rule.
I would like to pick up the case of a certain Martin Odegaard in this piece.
Odegaard was only 15 when he came into the limelight. Odegaard shot to prominence in the Tippligaen when he became the youngest debutante for Strømsgodset in a league match against Aalesunds FK. Fans had already heard his name in Norway, since he had been making waves in the junior leagues for a long time.
A couple of weeks down the line and he managed to score his first goal as well. Another few weeks down the line and he assisted all 3 of Strømsgodset’s goals against IK Start. By the end of the season, he had recorded 5 goals and 7 assists in 23 league games in his first season. Not bad for a 16 year old, eh??
One season in and the world was salivating over him. Before the beginning of the next season, he had training sessions with the first teams of Manchester United, City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. There were also talks of Odegaard being given a chance in the national team. In fact, John Arne Riise (one of my favorite Scousers) was one of the voices leading this thought.
And of course, Real Madrid made an offer. And if the movie Goal! has taught us anything, it is that you do not say no to Madrid. So, Odegaard aged 17, made the journey to the imposing Bernabeu. A kid who came in with a reputation. A kid who was good with a ball. A kid who was gifted technically. But a kid, at the end of it.
While Odegaard was expected to bring some magic into the Madrid squad and enchant the fans with his game, things did not pan out as per plans. Odegaard, while training with the first team, was playing for the Real Madrid Castilla, for whom he netted 5 times in 62 appearances.
It is during this time that he understood the many dimensions of being a professional footballer. He was brushed aside by Carlo Ancelotti as a ‘PR signing’ and was quickly branded as ‘high maintenance’ by the Spanish press.
While Odegaard did develop with the Castilla, he did not do enough to be called up to the first team, which everyone was hoping for when he was signed by Madrid.
Early in 2017, he was loaned out to the Dutch side, Heerenveen for a period of 18 months. Heerenveen was a mixed bag for Odegaard. While Odegaard did not do well for the first 6 months, he did pick up the pace in first his full season for Heerenveen and became an ever present started for the team.
Jurgen Streppel, manager for Heerenveen told reporters after a match “I have seen some amazing moments from Martin Odegaard,” Streppel said. “I told the boys: ‘Please give him the ball. He has it to run it all on this field.' He was the boss, but unfortunately in the second half he also participated in the slow pace of the game."
Maybe a move to the less physical, Dutch league bodes better for the technically gifted Odegaard. Nevertheless Odegaard ended his time in the Dutch league with figures of 3 goals and 4 assists in 40 odd matches.
For the 18-19 season, while Odegaard has been loaned out to Vitesse, he has always maintained that his wish is to become a Real Madrid starter. While he will have to wait out at least one more season to play in the Real Madrid first team, this will surely help in advancing his skills for the future.
Odegaard has managed to bag a decent 132 games, 14 goals and a similar number of assists in league football and has also been capped by Norway 12 times, becoming the youngest player to play for Norway in international football. All of this before he turned 20. He certainly has promise. But it may just be too early to be betting on him.
As per him, his time at Heerenveen has already made him a more mature and professional footballer.
“Now it's up to me to progress,” Odegaard said. “This season I want to get more out of my game. More goals, more assists, more decisive actions. In one year, I want to return to Spain as a mature and better player. Because that remains the big goal: a first-team spot at Real Madrid”.
Whether Odegaard becomes a Mbappe or a Freddy Adu remains to be seen.