Martin Odegaard: Too Much, Too Young

Sam Hill looks at how big money moves and high wages are having a detrimental effect on some of the games brightest talents.

When Martin Odegaard made his move to Real Madrid at the age of 16, many people saw him as the next big thing in football joining Europe’s elite. However, there were others who worried that a young player may struggle to cope with a move that big so early in his career. 

There were also question marks over whether the player warranted his wages, worth a reported £40,000 a week, with only one season of senior football under his belt at former club Strømsgodset. It highlighted, some said, a shift in football: youngsters were being paid wages equal to that of some players who have achieved far more in the game.


Two years on and the young Norwegian’s career has somewhat stagnated. Since his move Odegaard has failed to make a significant breakthrough into Madrid’s first team, making only a single substitute appearance in the league. This failure to make the instant impact many expected led to Odegaard playing for Madrid’s academy team. 

His record at the Castilla was more favourable, scoring 5 and assisting 8 in 62 appearances for the Spanish third tier side. Yet despite short glimpses of the technique and sheer talent that led to him getting his move to the Spanish giants in the first place, Odegaard has still failed to force his way into Zinedine Zidane’s plans. 

On loan at Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen since January, Odegaard has scored twice in that period. With tension reported between the Norwegian youngster and Madrid over the role that he expects to play in the team has led some to believe that a return to Spain is anything but definitive.  

Attitude Problems?

One reason attributed for this possible rift between Martin Odegaard and the club is the player’s character. His Madrid career has been tarnished by murmurings about a bad attitude on the part of the youngster, with some outlets reporting that his current loan resulted from a reluctance, or even refusal, to play for the Castilla team.  It’s claimed Odegaard believed he had outgrown the youth team and deserved a place in the first team. The club, however, did not share his opinion. 

This is a common source of problems amongst other young players. Like many others, Odegaard was told he was already worth a big move, in this case to Real Madrid, and wages far exceeding that of other players his age. Yet when he arrived he found himself facing a very different situation. 

Odegaard sits in a strange middle ground where he is currently seen as being not good enough for Real’s first team but too good for the Castilla. Perhaps in this situation the majority of the blame should be laid at the door of Real Madrid for what has happened. 

As is so often the case though, the money thrown at the youngster has clearly had a negative on him, a fact recently highlighted by Atlético Madrid’s Filipe Luis who said, “80% of young players go around with a branded bag, 400 Euro shoes & eight tattoos. They think they’re stars.”

Déjà vu?

Of course, Real Madrid are not the only culprits contributing to this toxic atmosphere in youth football. However, their recent deal for young Brazilian Vinicius Junior epitomizes the problem. 

Earlier this year, the Madrid club agreed a £38m deal to sign the player in 2018 despite him only being 16 years old, the same age at which they signed Odegaard. With this transfer fee being nearly 20 times more than Odegaard’s, they will hope history does not repeat itself.

The youngster is said to have a dazzling future ahead of him and many expect him to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot Gabriel Jesus in successfully adapting to live in the big leagues at a young age. However, with the Odegaard transfer still fresh in the memory, this should make the club all the more determined to make sure this youngster succeeds where the Norwegian hasn’t yet. 

To do this, they must make sure two things don’t happen: they must ensure that Junior does not let the fee get to him; and they must make sure the player remains patient if his breakthrough does not happen straight away. If they can do this, they may have a real gem of a player of the future. 

Looking to the Future

Martin Odegaard is not representative of all young players. However, his case highlights the negative effect a big money move can have on a rising star early (remember Freddy Adu?). So as appealing as the draw of a big club and the wages it offers may appear to a youngster, it may not always be as good as it seems.

Of course, it is important to remember that Odegaard is still only 18. It is now up to him to prove that he is good enough to play for Real Madrid and earn the wages they pay him. If he can get his career back on track, he could yet live up to his enormous potential. If not, Odegaard is at risk of becoming another player whose mismanagement cost their career. And so, as The Specials once sang, it could be a case of ‘too much, too young’ for Martin Odegaard.

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Sam Hill