Inside Odegaard's rise from Real Madrid 'publicity stunt' to Arsenal's main man under Arteta and Ballon d'Or shortlist | The Sun
22nd September 2023

MARTIN ODEGAARD never doubted he had the ability to live up to all the hype that surrounded him as a kid.

The problem was that he could never find a manager who shared that belief… until he met Mikel Arteta.

But from the moment the two tactical obsessives first met it was a match made in football heaven.

And less than three years later Odegaard is already a shortlisted contender for the Ballon d’Or and dreaming of winning the Champions League and Premier League.

No wonder the 24-year-old nomadic Norwegian was so keen to extend his Arsenal contract to 2028 – which has now been confirmed.

But it is all a far cry from the ordeal of being dismissed as “a publicity stunt” by Carlo Ancelotti after signing for Real Madrid at just 16 years old and spending the next four seasons being shipped out on loan.


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As he reflects on that turbulent time, Odegaard admits: “It was difficult at Madrid because I was very young and I was stuck between the first and second teams there.

“Then I was moving around here and there on loans between Heerenveen, Vitesse, Sociedad and Arsenal. So I never really got the time to settle down.

“I didn’t doubt myself but there were moments when I lost my confidence a little bit and then you don’t perform as you want to because you’re not in your best place.

“But I always kept that self-belief and I was always sure that I was going to turn things around.

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“You have to be good at focusing too much on the outside world, to keep working hard and doing your thing.

“Of course there were some moments of disappointment, but I was always pretty calm and from the first time I spoke with Mikel Arteta I knew he was a great coach and that I wanted to work with him.”

Odegaard initially joined Arsenal on loan in January 2021 before completing a £34million permanent move the following summer.

And his relationship with Arteta has gone from strength to strength after being handed the Arsenal captain’s armband.

He says: “The boss has been a massive, massive help. He’s amazing. I’m still learning new things every day in training.

“The way he sees football is so smart. He sees so many details you don’t even think about, but the way he explains it all makes sense.

“He is capable of making you understand football in a  different way and it’s nice for any player to feel that from his manager.”

Arteta recently claimed that his team changes formation up to 40 times in every game but Odegaard laughs when he says: “It’s not too crazy for us because I think a lot of that is in his head.

“He doesn’t tell us everything he is thinking about before a game. He will always tell us a lot of things that could happen in the game, but  he is good at keeping it short and precise and making everyone understand what he wants.”

The way he sees football is so smart. He sees so many details you don’t even think about, but the way he explains it all makes sense.

Odegaard’s decision to commit his long-term future to Arsenal comes after team-mates Gabriel Magalhaes, Gabriel Martinelli, Aaron Ramsdale, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and William Saliba all signed lengthy new contracts in the past year.

He added: “You see the players around you wanting to be a part of the project and it shows that what we’re doing is really special.

“Everyone is connected and we all want the same things. We want to stay for a long time to fight for the club and win things together. 

“With so many hungry young players, I’m sure we’re just going to get better and better. And it’s a no-brainer to want to be a part of that.”

Having pushed Manchester City harder than anyone could ever have imagined during last season’s Premier League title race, the challenge now for Odegaard and his Arsenal team-mates is to take the club from challengers to champions.

He admits: “It’s natural for expectations to rise if you perform well, but the whole team enjoys that pressure because we want to be there at the top, fighting to win things.

“We have a bigger squad with more depth and the ability to play in different ways. I’m very confident in what we’re doing

“Even though we’re a young team, you can see the quality we have and the responsibility everyone is willing to take. 

“Mikel is very clear with his ideas and what he wants, but at the same time he gives us the freedom to execute what he wants.

“We took a lot of penalties in pre-season and I scored all of mine, so when we were awarded one in our first away game at Crystal Palace I asked Bukayo (Saka) if I could take it and he said ‘yeah, if you feel good’

“It shows the leadership and personality within the team, because in the next game against Fulham, Bukayo scored the penalty because he felt confident. It was a natural thing for us, not a big deal.”

Odegaard finished last season as Arsenal’s joint top scorer with 15 Premier League goals and has already netted four times for club and country this time, including in the Champions League win over PSV.

He says: “I have always scored a lot of goals since I was young, but 15 is a great number for a midfielder.

“But even last season I missed a lot of big chances and could have scored a lot more so there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“It’s a natural thing for me to arrive late in the penalty-area and that can be very hard for opponents to defend again, but I don’t think you’ll see me attacking the box and scoring a header too many times.

“I don’t have a target for the number of goals I scored but with the quality we have up front and on the wings, we’re going to create a lot of chances.”

Odegaard’s very first goal for Arsenal came in a 2-1 win against Spurs in March 2021 and another in Sunday’s North London derby would be the perfect way to celebrate his new contract. 


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He says: “Spurs is the big one. I knew from my first day here that game is something special.

“You can feel it in the training ground, on social media and from the fans. It’s a game we all look forward to playing and winning.”

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