Martin Ødegaard was the story of the transfer window just gone, with the world’s major sport media covering his every step. The mercurial Norwegian burst onto the scene a year ago by setting domestic records in his home country and then internationally – making his debut at just fifteen.
His presence and poise seemed to defy such years and in a physical Norwegian league he scored a goal every four games for Strømsgodset. Obvious comparisons started to be made between him and other such former prodigies. But unlike the list comprising of the youngest Premier League debuts Ødegaard had yet to make an impression at the highest level, save for a few weeks spent in Germany and Manchester.
Away from the top academies and youth leagues his natural ability saw him thrown ahead of his cohorts and his Tippeligaen debut began the first major media scrum of his career as the inevitable call for his first international cap saw him play against the U.A.E.
When the transfer window rolled around it was only a matter of which major European club he ended up at. He choose Real Madrid and won the tag of leading the next generation of Galicticos.
However, go back ten years and you’ll see many of the adjectives used to describe Ødegaard also thrown about when discussing another teenage star – Freddy Adu.
Physically they’re not all that different. Standing around 5’9, strong, pacey, skillful and capable of releasing a rasping shot. The biggest difference is their age, and quite possibly their ability to read a game. Many feel Adu, despite the physical prowess of his early teens never stood a chance as he bypassed any genuine academy play in place of fighting for his place in the starting line up at hometown club D.C. United.
Surely that can’t happen at Real Madrid and their legendary Castilla feeder team? A set up which has produced talent for the main side as well as sending players further afield.
Adu was seen as a talent to launch soccer in the United States, and then Beckham took over. Similarly Ødegaard is described as a player who can have a team built around him at international level too.
But there is contention with his place at Madrid. On instance of his father who was instrumental in finalising what club he ended up at, Ødegaard trains with the first team, but plays for the reserves. Hardly the ideal precedent for those behind him in the pecking order to follow, it’s brought about further trouble. As does his lack of Spanish.
Currently it can be statistically proven Castilla do better with him not on the field. If you were to pick the ideal mentor for an attacking midfielder with some promise, Zinedine Zidane would have to be your top choice – but he doesn’t know what to do with the youngster.
Many lesser coaches found themselves in this predicament with Adu over the last ten years and who stopped being a regular at seventeen. The language barrier existed for him too as he jostled around Europe in search of his dream, often joining clubs smaller than those in the MLS he played for – in the hopes of being picked up by one of the big boys of the game.
If Ødegaard’s father has been hands on thus far, Adu also shared a similar experience when he choose to stay close to family. Hardly the worst thing for such a young player, but his first club was influenced on where it was, rather than who it was.
Both players possess physical and technical advancement beyond their age. Adu never developed his mental side, Ødegaard need to work on his. It’s a stark warning that Adu has ended up plying his trade in Scandinavia well away from the career he had in mind. Ødegaard will make it at a higher level, but it remains to be seen whether or not that will be at the Bernabau.
At least he can take solace in the fact that for every Francis Jeffers there is a Wayne Rooney.