Martin Odegaard reveals why he chose Real Madrid over other European giants

Martin Odegaard was signed by Real Madrid when he turned 16
Martin Odegaard was signed by Real Madrid when he turned 16 / Denis Doyle/GettyImages

Martin Odegaard has admitted he struggled to find a place at Real Madrid after joining the Spanish giants as a teenager, stuck between the first-team and B team without feeling that he really belonged to either.

Ironically, that dual role was a major reason why the Norwegian prodigy chose to join Los Blancos ahead of other big clubs in the first place.

Odegaard quickly emerged as the hottest property in European football in 2014, having become a regular for boyhood team Stromsgodset at the age of just 15.

Nearly every top side in Europe wanted to sign him and the youngster visited teams all over before eventually settling on Real Madrid, a move he completed in January 2015 soon after turning 16.

In the process of choosing Real, Odegaard turned down Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and even current club Arsenal – while visiting the Gunners, the player and his father were even treated to a steak dinner by Arsene Wenger.

But Real won the race for two reasons. Firstly, one of Odegaard’s favourite players was already at the Bernabeu. Secondly, the deal they proposed seemed like a smart move.

“In the end, Madrid is Madrid,” Odegaard explained for The Players’ Tribune.

“They were Champions League holders with the best players in the world. Back then, I loved Isco – he was so smooth on the ball. One of my kind of players!”

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“But the really key thing about Madrid’s offer was that they had a B team where I could play competitive football immediately. And the manager of that team? Zinedine Zidane. It felt like the total package,” he added.

“We made this plan with the club that I would train every day with the first-team but get regular game time with the B team. It seemed like a smart plan at the time, but it worked out that I ended up not finding my place with either group.”

English speakers like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos took ‘extra care’ of Odegaard when he first arrived in Spain. But, looking back, the player explained that splitting his time in such a way ultimately just ended up holding him back instead.

“With the B team, I wasn’t with them regularly so I didn’t find that connection. In the first-team, I was just some kid who came to train. I wasn’t involved in matches. I felt a bit like an outsidee. I was stuck in between,” he said.

“I stopped playing with the spark that was typical of my game. I went a bit too safe. I was worrying more about not making mistakes than actually playing my game. After a couple of years, I just wasn’t progressing. The press came after me for not immediately living up to the hype. I was an easy target.

“There is no in-between in modern football. You’re either the best signing in history, or you’re s***.”

Odegaard later found his feet during loans at Vitesse Arnhem, Heerenveen and Real Sociedad, even cutting short his time at the latter to try and establish himself back in Madrid. But a bout of Covid-19 before the start of the 2020/21 campaign, from which he hadn’t fully recovered by the time he was handed back-to-back La Liga starts, derailed his chances of getting more.

Having made the decision he had to start looking elsewhere again, Arsenal came in for Odegaard on loan in January 2021 and the deal was made permanent a few months later. North London has since provided the stability he was previously missing and Odegaard is now captaining a team on course to be crowned Premier League champions for the first time in 19 years.

But even after everything, he doesn’t regret choosing Real Madrid.

“I learned so much about what it takes to reach the top,” he said. “I watched, trained and learned from the best players in the world, my idols. I played at the Bernabeu. I learned to be tough and to face challenges. It’s part of who I am now. It’s the reason I’m where I am today.”

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