Martin Ødegaard (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈmɑʈɪn ˈøːdəˌɡɔːɾ]; born 17 December 1998) is a Norwegian professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for Spanish club Real Madrid Castilla and the Norway national team.
He made his debut for Strømsgodset Toppfotball on 13 April 2014, becoming the youngest player to feature in Tippeligaen, and became its youngest goalscorer on 16 May. After being a regular part of the team in his first season and training with several foreign clubs, Ødegaard was signed by Real Madrid in January 2015. He is currently playing for their reserve team, Real Madrid Castilla, but trains mainly with the first team. On 23 May 2015, he became the youngest player to represent Real Madrid.
Ødegaard made his international debut against the United Arab Emirates on 27 August 2014, becoming the youngest debutant for the senior team at the age of 15 years and 253 days. On 13 October 2014, he became the youngest player to feature in a qualifying match for the UEFA European Championship.
Ødegaard spent his first years in the local sports club Drammen Strong. His father, Hans Erik Ødegaard, a former footballer, co-founded a football section in the club, and became the coach of his son's team. In 2005, when Ødegaard was six, his parents and others each invested 50,000 kroner so that the local club could refit their gravel field, Kjappen, with artificial turf. This has been cited as crucial for his development, as Ødegaard spent countless hours on the field.
Drammen Strong was twice selected by Ødegaard to receive a prize of 50,000 kroner (€5,800), when the young player was given the Statoil talent award for April 2014 and for the 2014 season. Later, in 2015, Drammen Strong received 250,000 kroner, equivalent to approximately €29,000, as a gift from Strømsgodset Toppfotball when Ødegaard was sold to Real Madrid.
In 2009, Ødegaard joined the youth division of Strømsgodset. He trained and played with older boys.
The Norwegian FA also organizes young talents in local district teams. Ødegaard played his first matches for the Buskerud team in January 2010, when he had just turned 11. The other players on the team, and opponents, were 2–3 years older. The coach noted: "Handles things brilliantly. Good choices. Good touch, smart in position game". Ødegaard trained with this team weekly for the next three years. He mostly played left back, as the coaches felt this would give him a positive experience with many ball touches while still playing against physically much stronger players. In attack, he was given free rein due to his ability to "see solutions and spaces that we as coaches were not even close to thinking about."
In 2011, at age 12, he impressed former football manager Lars Tjærnås during a nationwide tournament for under-16s:
The best 15-year-olds in the country were gathered for a tournament between the top clubs... It was definitely not the first time he had astonished his opponents or the spectators. He was three or four years younger than the others. It was impossible not to realize that we were witnessing something out of the ordinary.
Ødegaard began training with the Strømsgodset first team in 2012, aged 13. He made his first team debut the same year, in a mid-season friendly against local rivals Mjøndalen IF. He also had short training visits to Bayern Munich and Manchester United. In 2013, at age 14, Ødegaard played for both Strømsgodset's junior team (normally aged 17–19), and the club's third team at the fifth tier of Norwegian senior football.
In January 2014, it was agreed that 15-year-old Ødegaard would be part of Strømsgodset's first team for the year, but no professional contract was signed. The competition rules state that to play in Tippeligaen, players must have a professional contract to be eligible. However, the club included Ødegaard on the "B-list" for amateur players, which made him eligible for up to three matches per season. Ødegaard was unable to train with Strømsgodset in the daytime since he was still in compulsory education. Thus, as part of the agreement, he trained two evenings a week with Mjøndalen IF, a semi-professional First Division team at the time, where his father was one of the coaches.
He made his league debut for Strømsgodset in a match against Aalesunds FK at Marienlyst Stadion on 13 April 2014. Aged 15 years and 118 days, he became the youngest footballer ever to play in Tippeligaen. On 5 May, he signed a professional contract with Strømsgodset, lasting until the end of 2015. This removed the restriction of three matches per season. Eleven days later, he scored his first professional goal and became the youngest goalscorer in Tippeligaen when he scored the fourth goal for Strømsgodset in a 4–1 home victory against Sarpsborg 08 FF. He made his European debut on 16 July, replacing Lars Christopher Vilsvik for the final five minutes of the club's 1–0 home defeat to Steaua Bucureşti in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.
In late July, an away match at Sandnes Ulf prompted serious discussion in national newspapers VG, Dagbladet and Aftenposten, on his possible call-up to the Norwegian national team. Ødegaard was involved in all three goals for his team, including a goal and an assist. He was also fouled for a penalty which was missed by a teammate. John Arne Riise, the most-capped player on the Norwegian national team, was impressed, and "demanded" Ødegaard should be called up to play against the big nations of Europe. Former manager for Norway, Nils Johan Semb, said after the match that "Martin is one of the best 15-year-olds in Europe," but added that he should not be rushed into the national team. Ødegaard himself stated to the press that if he would be asked to play for Norway, he would say yes.
In the away match against IK Start on 15 August the same year, Ødegaard was placed on the right wing, and made all three assists for Strømsgodset, who won 3–2. He scored two goals in a match for the first time in his career in the 2–1 win against Lillestrøm SK on 19 October. Strømsgodset finished fourth in the league, qualifying for the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League, with Ødegaard having scored 5 goals in 23 league games in addition to 7 assists.
In December 2014, during the Norwegian close season, he trained with the first teams at Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Manchester City. He also visited Arsenal. In January 2015, he trained with Real Madrid.
On 21 January 2015, Real Madrid reached an agreement to sign Ødegaard from Strømsgodset, for a fee reported by Spanish media as around €3 million. Norwegian media reported, however, that the fee was 35 million kroner (approximately €4 million), which could rise to 70–75 million kroner (approximately €8–8.5 million) on certain conditions. In a press conference after the signing, Real Madrid announced that Ødegaard would train with both the club's first team and the reserves, Real Madrid Castilla. He would play for the latter team, which was managed by Zinedine Zidane at the time.
He made his unofficial debut for the reserves on 4 February, in a 3–3 friendly draw with Beijing Guoan. He was subsequently named in the first team's UEFA Champions League squad. Ødegaard was assigned the number 21. His official debut for Castilla came on 8 February, coming on in the last 20 minutes as a substitute in the 2–2 draw against Athletic Bilbao B in Segunda División B. On 21 February, he scored his first goal for the club in a 4–0 win over Barakaldo CF at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, opening the scoring after seven minutes.
In April, Ødegaard was dropped from Castilla after a run of four defeats, with staff finding problems with him training with the first team while playing for the reserves, in addition to a language barrier. First team manager Carlo Ancelotti called for fans to be patient while Ødegaard settles in a new country. On 29 April, he was included in Real Madrid's matchday squad for the first time for a home La Liga fixture against UD Almería, as Ancelotti was without Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić and Karim Benzema through injury. However, he did not feature in the 3–0 victory.
On 23 May, in the final fixture of the season, he made his debut for Real Madrid, coming-on as a 58th-minute substitute for hat-trick scorer and then-reigning FIFA Ballon d'Or Cristiano Ronaldo in an eventual 7–3 home win over Getafe CF. He became the youngest debutant in the history of the club at 16 years and 157 days old.
Ødegaard was a regular starter for Castilla during the 2015–16 season. On 17 April 2016, he was praised in Diario AS for his performance in a 3–0 home win over SD Gernika Club, winning a penalty kick which Mariano scored. The result put the team top of the table. The team won the group ahead of Barakaldo CF on the last day, with Ødegaard scoring his first of the season in a 6–1 thrashing of La Roda CF.
Martin Ødegaard featured in the starting line-ups for the two home matches of the Norway national under-15 football team versus Sweden on 17 and 19 September 2013. Both matches were won by Norway, 2–1 and 2–0.
Ødegaard played for the Norway national under-16 football team in a tournament with Scotland, the United States and France in Turkey in January 2014. He played the full 90 minutes in all three matches, which resulted in a win versus Scotland and two losses.
He was promoted to the Norway national under-17 football team for the away match against Iceland on 28 February 2014. Ødegaard came on as a substitute in the 62nd minute, and helped secure a 2–1 win for his country. Subsequently, he was in the starting line-up for the next three away matches; in the 3–0 win against Iceland on 2 March, in the 2–3 loss against Turkey on 25 March and finally in the 0–3 loss against Greece on 30 March 2014.
In September 2014, he was selected for the Norway national under-21 football team for the final match of the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualification. He played the full match against Portugal, as a forward, but was unable to prevent the opponents from winning 2–1, despite being named Man of the Match.
An unused substitute for the senior team on 6 September 2015 against Croatia, he joined the under-21 team again the following day in the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying match against England. He played the full 90 minutes in the match, which Norway lost 0–1 at home after a penalty goal by James Ward-Prowse.
On 19 August 2014, Ødegaard was called up for a senior international against the United Arab Emirates in Stavanger and played the entire goalless draw on 27 August, becoming the youngest player to play for Norway at senior level, at 15 years and 253 days. The record was previously held by Tormod Kjellsen, who was 15 years and 351 days on his debut in 1910.
On 30 September 2014, he was called up to Norway's UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying matches against Malta and Bulgaria. He made his competitive debut in the latter, replacing Mats Møller Dæhli in the 64th minute of a 2–1 home win. At the age of 15 years and 300 days, this made him the youngest player to ever play in a European Championship qualifier, breaking a record held since 1983 by Icelander Sigurður Jónsson.
On 29 March 2015, Ødegaard became the youngest player to start a European Championship qualifier at the age of 16 years and 101 days in a 5–1 loss to Croatia. On 8 June, he was man of the match in Norway's 0–0 friendly draw with Scandinavian rivals Sweden in Oslo. After Norway came third in their qualification group, Ødegaard was named in their squad for a play-off against Hungary. Unused in the first leg, he was substituted at half time in the second on 15 November, as Norway lost 2–1 on the night and 3–1 on aggregate.
An article in the Liverpool Echo described Ødegaard as "an attack-minded midfielder very much in the modern mould. Diminutive, quick-footed, with natural balance, pace and, perhaps surprisingly for one so young, excellent shooting power". David Nielsen, his manager at Strømsgodset, likened him to David Silva and Lionel Messi. Amidst transfer speculation in December 2014, he opined that the player would develop better with a second season in Norway.
In September 2014, international teammate and Rosenborg winger Morten Gamst Pedersen dubbed Ødegaard the most talented player he had ever seen, saying "For his age he is unbelievable – his knowledge of the game is unbelievable and his technical skills are fantastic". Pedersen also stated that Ødegaard needed time to improve at the physical aspects of the sport.
When describing his son, Hans Erik Ødegaard said, "It's the pace of the game that makes the difference in adjusting to different levels. We've used so many hours in working with his first and second touch to take off the pressure. We have worked a lot on bringing the ball closely to his feet, so he can change direction quickly, so even if he's physically weaker than the others he doesn't get caught because he's able to get away."
After Ødegaard signed for Real Madrid, Norwegian former football scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen praised his mentality, stating that he had "overcome every challenge in front of him". Karlsen called him "so level-headed and mature" and noted his intelligence and performance at school, while also saying that this could be a disadvantage as "The best footballers tend to have a bit of needle, a bit of fire". While former Norway international Jan Åge Fjørtoft was supportive of the transfer to Real Madrid due to the opportunity to learn from Zidane, he warned that at the age of 16 he needed time to develop: "Comparing Ødegaard to Messi is nonsense from the media. Messi is a player who can make the difference and Martin can do the same, but any comparisons should not be taken seriously". Ødegaard reacted to the attention on him by saying "If you get carried away now, you won’t get far in 10 years. I'm supposed to be at my best then, not now. That I know".
Ødegaard is the son of former footballer Hans Erik Ødegaard, who played as a midfielder for Strømsgodset and Sandefjord Fotball and was assistant manager of Mjøndalen IF from 2009 to 2015. He was still attending a local lower secondary school when he made his professional debut, but has since completed his compulsory education in Norway. He is a supporter of English team Liverpool, whom he has described as his "dream club". Ødegaard looked up to Barcelona's Lionel Messi, although on joining their rivals Real Madrid he was reported to have deleted tweets in which he had praised Messi. Due to his age, Ødegaard was absent from the computer game Football Manager 2015 until his father gave permission to use his son's likeness.
Ødegaard has grown up in a Christian family and has expressed that religious faith is an important part of his life. He was named in Time's 30 most influential teenagers of 2015.
- As of 16 May 2016
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- As of 29 March 2016
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