He is a Real Madrid prodigy whose name is known worldwide, but up until now, his sole taste of the Champions League was a five minute cameo in an already lost second qualifying round back in 2014. Then, Martin Odegaard was a 15-year-old lining out for Norway's Stromsgodset, having become the youngest player and youngest goalscorer in Tippeligaen history just a couple of months earlier.
Less than a year later, Odegaard turned down the advances of the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern Munich to sign for Real Madrid. The plan was to have the wonderkid adapt to life in Spain by playing for Real Madrid Castilla before progressing into the senior side once he had proven his worth. But over the next three years, he played just one league game and one cup game before Real decided that loaning him abroad may be the best way to realise his talent.
Since 2017, he has been on loan in the Netherlands, first at Heerenveen and then at Vitesse. Finally, the boy with enormous potential had started to blossom. In 2018-19, he helped Vitesse challenge for Europe and was named in the official Eredivisie Team of the Season. Odegaard's 122 chances created were more than any other player in the league, while he was one of only four players to complete over 100 dribbles, finishing with the highest completion rate of those four.
Odegaard's performances last season did not go unnoticed, but with Madrid in the midst of their biggest spending spree in years, his path to the first team is blocked once more. Now 20, the attacker was happy to leave the club again but was hoping his future would be resolved quickly after a frustrating summer in 2018 where his Vitesse deal was not agreed until late in the window. By then, the club had already been knocked out of Europe.
“It has been a good year, I have made big strides and developed my game," Odegaard told VG. "I don’t want what happened last summer to happen again. I want to go on vacation and enjoy a break.
“Real Madrid are very happy with me, but it’s difficult to play there and it probably will be the case next season as well. They’ve sold many players with a re-purchase clause. I don’t care much, I just want to go somewhere where I have the opportunity to play and a coach who believes in me.”
After impressing in the Netherlands, Odegaard now has the chance to step up another level at Bayer Leverkusen, where he will play under Peter Bosz. The former Ajax head coach has extracted the best out of young players and shown a willingness to give them more responsibility, like with Kai Havertz last season.
Joining Leverkusen will finally provide Odegaard an opportunity to play in the Champions League proper and prove himself against the best players in Europe. 'Boszball' will also offer him the freedom to continue to play the way he did at Vitesse, dribbling past opponents and using his vision to play the killer pass to team-mates.
A year in the Bundesliga was the perfect testing ground for Dani Carvajal back in 2012-13. The full-back was unable to break through at Real Madrid, so transferred to Bayer Leverkusen before being bought back a year later thanks to an incredibly low release fee in his contract - meaning it essentially was a one-year loan deal to the Bundesliga.
Before moving to Leverkusen, Carvajal had not played a single minute for Real, but immediately became first-choice right-back once he returned to Santiago Bernabeu. In the Bundesliga, Carvajal had been a revelation and was nominated for Bundesliga Team of the Season, only to miss out on a spot to Bayern Munich's legendary full-back Philipp Lahm.
"I learned a lot, especially living alone there, going to another country, another league," Carvajal told reporters when he left Leverkusen. "I matured a lot as a person, and was able to compete in elite football and European competition.
Being young, you acquire a lot of experience, and the tactical and physical aspects make you a better player. Tactically, I'm more complete. Coming up against footballers from around the world makes you improve."
Odegaard will have a similar experience at the BayArena, where Bosz will give him the confidence and freedom to shine. He will also finally get a chance to play in the Champions League, five years after he first had a tiny taste of the competition.