Martin Odegaard, once dubbed 'the Norwegian Messi' as he rose through the ranks at Stromsgodset, is struggling to reinvigorate his career after a year in the Netherlands with Heerenveen.
Odegaard, 19, was tipped as football's next big thing from the age of 15, when he became the youngest ever player to feature in the Norwegian Eliteserien. He later completed a move to Real Madrid in January 2015 - the latest step on his inevitable path to the Ballon d'Or.
But Odegaard went on to make only one start for Madrid, in the Copa del Rey, as he struggled to break through at the Bernabeu. Former Real manager Carlo Ancelotti called the move a "PR stunt."
In January 2017, Odegaard was loaned out to Dutch side Heerenveen to give him a fresh start in a less competitive environment. The Eredivisie was seen as a natural middle-ground for Odegaard - stronger than the Eliteserien, but not as intense or demanding as La Liga.
Three years ago, all of Europe's big clubs wanted Martin Odegaard. Real Madrid got him. Now he's at Heerenveen, almost out of sight, almost out of mind. What happened? https://t.co/Nrr2BnxLYM— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) February 1, 2018
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“It was a good chance to play,” former Norway international Tore Pederson told the New York Times. “The culture is similar in Holland to Norway, so it is easier to settle, and Heerenveen has a good record with Scandinavian players.”
Odegaard has become a regular starter in the Netherlands, but Real Madrid probably aren't waiting by the phone to recall him. In 34 appearances for the club, he has scored just twice. Norwegian journalist Arilas Ould-Saada says that Odegaard has shown only glimpses of his true ability.
“It's his first year in top-level football and while he has shown that he can be a game changer, it's also true to say that he lacks something," Ould-Saada said, quoted by GiveMeSport. "He's not the finished product which can deliver goals, assists."
Heerenveen are currently 8th in the Eredivisie after a 1-0 win over FC Twente on Saturday.