Back in Spain. Back in the spotlight. Martin Odegaard is turning heads once more on his third loan spell away from Real Madrid, writes Michael Hincks.
A re-emergence at 20 years old. It sounds ridiculous, and you cannot say that about many players, but then again, not many players make a high-profile transfer to Real Madrid at 16.
Four years on from his move to the Spanish capital, Martin Odegaard’s displays on loan at Real Sociedad are not going unnoticed.
The Basque club are fifth in La Liga, and Odegaard has been at the forefront of that fine start. Is he finally showing the promise which led to his groundbreaking move?
- August 2014: Becomes Norway’s youngest ever senior international at 15 years and 253 days
- January 2015: Joins Real Madrid from Strømsgodset
- May 2015: Comes off the bench to become Real’s youngest debutant
- November 2016: First Real start in Copa del Rey, having played mainly for Real Madrid Castilla
- January 2017: Joins Heerenveen on loan for 18 months
- Summer 2018: Joins Vitesse on loan for 2018-19 season
- Summer 2019: Moves to Real Sociedad on loan for 2019-20 season
Sociedad may have narrowly lost at Sevilla on Sunday night, but that only slightly detracts from the strong start they have made this season.
The current top six have all won four of their opening seven league games, and Sociedad sit fifth on 13 points, tied with Barcelona and Sevilla, and two points off leaders Real Madrid.
For Sociedad, it is Odegaard and Mikel Oyarzabal who are leading their charge for a Champions League place, seven seasons on from their last top-four finish, when they had Antoine Griezmann and Carlos Vela at their disposal.
Oyarzabal, 22, has four goals and two assists after seven games, while Odegaard – who has played every minute of their league campaign so far – is impressing in numerous departments beyond the two goals and two assists he has already.
The midfielder is fourth for the most successful dribbles in La Liga, while he has made the joint-highest number of key passes along with Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos.
That is thanks in part to the 10 key passes made in last week’s 3-0 win over Alaves, where Odegaard’s assist for Oyarzabal’s opener drew plaudits the continent over.
Not only were those 10 key passes a record across Europe’s top five leagues this season, it was also the most since the start of the 2016-17 La Liga season.
The stats prove he is emerging as one of the league’s most influential playmakers, but he has another league to thank for honing his skills.
Made in the Netherlands?
Odegaard could well look back on his time in the Netherlands and consider the Eredivisie as the league which aided his development without distraction.
Having played only one La Liga match – coming off the bench in the final game of the 2014-15 season – and making just one start in a 2016 Copa del Rey game, it was evident Odegaard would only mature as a player away from Madrid.
He joined Heerenveen on loan for 18 months from January 2017, and though his stats there were little to shout home about, his spell at Vitesse in 2018-19 outlined his true potential.
The season was dominated domestically by Ajax, who won the league and cup double, but Odegaard enjoyed a fruitful season for a side which finished fifth.
He combined with Bryan Linssen five times, the second-best combination that year in Eredivisie, while he was joint-fifth for successful dribbles.
Only Hakim Ziyech made more key passes, while his tally of 10 assists was bettered only by five players.
November showdown at the Bernabeu?
Odegaard’s impressive Eredivisie displays saw him reportedly the subject of interest from Ajax in the summer, but instead he chose a return to Spain with Sociedad.
That brought with it the added pressure of featuring in the same league as his parent club.
And in contrast to many loans deals, Odegaard is free to feature against Real, who have reportedly removed a clause from their loan contracts stipulating that loanees cannot play against the club.
Those reports have been proved true with on-loan Borja Mayoral scoring for Levante against parent club Real Madrid, while Sergio Reguilon also featured against Real earlier this month for Sevilla.
Real Madrid are set to host Sociedad in November, with the reverse fixture in April, meaning Odegaard can showcase his skills against the team he will one day look to break into.
Could Real recall him?
For now, it appears Real Madrid will allow Odegaard to bask in the extra game-time he is getting in the Basque country.
Spanish paper Marca claim that Real Madrid have not changed their long-term strategy regarding Odegaard, and they will not look to cut the loan spell short in January.
“The aim is for Odegaard to be incorporated into the Real Madrid first-team setup from next season, though the Norwegian wants to know what his role would be in the side,” Marca wrote.
“Nevertheless, for now, Odegaard is doing exactly what he was sent on loan for, to get La Liga experience and become accustomed to the demands of the league, a test which he is, so far, acing.”