A star in Eredivisie - but does Odegaard really have a future at Real Madrid?

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The one-time teen prodigy has been in superb form for Vitesse this season, but will he ever deliver on his potential at Santiago Bernabeu?

It is not normal for Real Madrid to unveil every player they acquire for their academy, but back in January 2015, Martin Odegaard was no ordinary youth signing. Aged just 15 and having spent months travelling around Europe's biggest and best clubs, the Norwegian teenager landed in the Spanish capital to huge fanfare and celebration from both outside and in, with the Blancos having beaten Liverpool, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and the Manchester clubs to his signature.

Had Madrid acquired the new Cristiano Ronaldo, or even the new Lionel Messi? The aura surrounding Odegaard far outweighed his achievements on the pitch for Stromsgodset in his homeland, though the amount of hyperbole emanating out of Norway and around Europe was difficult to ignore.

That is why his initial showings in Madrid were so disappointing. In two years with Castilla - Real's 'B' team - he made 62 appearances, scoring just five goals and laying on eight assists. All of the noise surrounding his arrival did not match his performances on the pitch, and fans began to lose faith.

His coaches - including a certain Zinedine Zidane - continued to value his commitment, but given how much he had been built up upon his arrival, two underwhelming appearances in the first team and a series of disappointing displays in Segunda B - the Spanish third tier - did not bode well.

Martin Odegaard Real Madrid

There were, naturally, caveats which should be considered when analysing Odegaard's early years in Madrid. Moving to a new country and attempting to integrate into a new culture is difficult for anyone of such a young age, particularly when you are unable to speak the language. Meanwhile, the Castilla team in which he was playing was made up predominantly of players who lacked the same natural talent as their new team-mate.

"Everything was fast. In Norway there was no star player for a long time, so the media enlarged everything. I was 15 years old and it was a madhouse every day!" Odegaard explained of his move in an interview with Algemeen Dagblad. "I am a sober person, the prototype of a Scandinavian person. I do not like attention or exaggerated expectations at all.

"At 16 I went to Madrid with my father, who was my driver. My mother stayed with my two sisters in Norway. Our family has been separated for several years and that is a sacrifice. Of course I expected to play more minutes, but I was with the most important stars like Sergio Ramos or Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a giant step for me."

One thing was clear - Odegaard needed to leave Spain or risk being pigeon-holed as yet another teen prodigy on whom too much was expected. His destination: Eredivisie and Heerenveen.

Moving to the Netherlands meant he was both far away enough from Spain for him to avoid prying eyes while close enough to Norway to feel more comfortable in his surroundings. Some questioned whether such a drop down in standard may be counterproductive, but after finding his feet in 2017-18, he returned to the league again this term, this time with Vitesse.

The raw numbers do not lie when it comes to his performances. For Heerenveen he netted three goals and provided five assists in 43 appearances. This season for Vitesse those totals have jumped to nine goals and 10 assists ahead of Wednesday's final game of the season against VVV-Venlo. His performances have displayed a maturity not seen previously, with his star in the league having risen week on week as Vitesse close in on European qualification.

Martin Odegaard GFX

"Martin has taken a big step forward on his path to establishing himself in one of the best leagues in Europe as a mature player," Norwegian journalist, Joachim Baardsen of VG, told Goal. "He is ready now. There is hardly any doubt about his evolution this season. I think that even for another two or three seasons we won’t see his maximum potential. But when that moment comes, he can be exceptional."

The question is now: is he ready to make his mark on the Real Madrid first team? The Merengues certainly still believe in his ability, and their hopes for him have skyrocketed having watched him thrive in senior football for the first time in his young career. As such, there is little desire to allow him to leave on a permanent basis despite interest from Ajax.

The Champions League semi-finalists were already a fan of the 20-year-old before he scored a crucial goal against PSV to swing the title race in Ajax's favour, and now rumours of a €20 million (£17.3m/$22.5m) bid will not go away. A replacement for Hakim Ziyech is being sought after in Amsterdam, and Odegaard's experience of the Eredivisie and potential to shine on the European stage mean he could be an ideal signing.

"I will talk to Real Madrid and we will see what happens. Ajax is a great club. I think €20m is a lot of money for me!" the man himself said recently when asked about the reports regarding his future, though those talks with Madrid will only end one way. A permanent sale is off the table, though that does not mean he will not be plying his trade at the Johan Cruyff ArenA in 2019-20.

Martin Odegaard Vitesse 2018-19

De Telegraaf has reported that the two historical giants of European football have been negotiating a loan deal, though any move is unlikely to be finalised until it is known whether Odegaard could realistically play a part for his parent club.

Zidane's return to the dugout is good news for Odegaard; a fact the player himself has recognised. The hurdles in front of him are considerable, however. Fellow youngsters Vinicius Junior and Brahim Diaz have already begun to establish themselves in La Liga, while teenager Rodrygo will soon arrive from Brazil after his move from Santos was finalised last year. Factor in more established wide forwards Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez, and the competition for places on the flanks is stiffer than at most top continental clubs, even when the likes of Isco and Dani Ceballos - who look set to be sold this summer - are taken out of the equation.

As such, Odegaard will likely have to wait until the end of the window before learning exactly where he will spend his next 12 months. There is no doubt at 20 that he needs minutes to continue his development, and Zidane will have the final say on all transfer decisions. But if it is not 2019 when he finally makes the grade at Madrid, then it will be 2020 or 2021. They have invested too much in him now to give up and allow another club to reap the benefits of his talents.

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Odegaard was the standard bearer for Madrid's new policy of unearthing the planet's best young talent before anyone else, and despite the disappointments of this season, few doubt that it was the correct path to follow.

"Odegaard reminds me of [Christian] Eriksen, but he's even faster," Baardsen concludes in his conversation with Goal. Ironically, Denmark international Eriksen is one of those on the Madrid agenda this summer when it comes to signings, and he too had an envious record as a youth in Scandinavia before honing his talent in the Eredivisie and moving to the Premier League at the age of 21.

In Odegaard, Madrid believe the next Scandinavian superstar is already on their books and ready to finally make his mark on the 13-time European champions. The time for Odegaard to deliver on all his potential is just around the corner.

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