Alternative highlights of 19-20: Martin Odegaard’s Zidane-esque assist


Martin Odegaard started the 2019-20 season with his name perilously close to being used as shorthand for another over-hyped young footballer who failed to live up to his potential. He will start the 2020-21 season having finally earned his place in Real Madrid‘s first team.

It is now over six years since Odegaard made his senior debut for club and country as a 15-year-old. His remarkable ascent to the top of the game prompted invites to train with Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs, but it was Real Madrid who won the race to sign the prodigious teen.

He spent his first two years for the club mainly training and playing for Zinedine Zidane’s Castilla team and had to wait 679 days before being handed his first start with the senior side, one of only two appearances he made for Los Blancos before being sent on a series of loan moves that would send shivers down the spine of any Chelsea reserve: 18 months at Heerenveen followed by a season at Vitesse.

His time in the Eredivisie saw the hype quickly subside; the Norwegian media stopped sending reporters to cover his games, which stopped being broadcast on TV, and Heerenveen struggled to work out his best position.

Journalist Arilas Ould-Saada concluded: “I think Martin has the qualities to become a good player in the Spanish league, but I have my doubts about him being an important player at Real Madrid.”

Joining Real Sociedad on loan this season finally gave him the chance to play regular La Liga football, but there was still a sense Real Madrid were yet to be convinced, agreeing a two-year loan deal while getting carried away by their shinier, younger, more expensive prospects in Brazilian duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

The difference in maturity from when Odegaard first moved to Holland became immediately apparent. His first seven games at Heerenveen amounted to a single shot and just one assist; at Sociedad he scored a winner against Mallorca in his second appearance and no doubt pleased his parent club with another goal in a man-of-the-match performance in a victory over Atletico Madrid in his fourth.

After a season shining for Sociedad, Zidane has decided to recall Odegaard from his loan move a year early to finally give him a proper chance in Real Madrid’s first team. While his campaign has been peppered with alluring examples of the talent that made him so coveted as a 15-year-old, one moment stood out above all the rest and may offer an explanation as to why Zidane wants to give him an opportunity next season.

Shave a bald patch into the top of Odegaard’s crown and you could be watching Zizou in his pomp; the grace and poise and sheer mastery of the game at hand to nutmeg a defender and send him in the completely wrong direction, creating the space to pick a pass that would split the particles in the Large Hadron Collider, begging Mikel Oyarzabal to finish it off.

Game recognises game, so there are few higher compliments in football than to be wanted by Zidane.

Odegaard will no doubt be subject to plenty of scrutiny back at the Bernabeu, but if the similarities with his manager continue, we could be about to see the boy wonder finally develop the man he was tipped to become.

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