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Martin Ødegaard has proved himself to be Luka Modric’s natural successor at Real Madrid

June 9, 2020

NOT so long ago, Martin Odegaard seemed destined to join the likes of Freddy Adu, Sonny Pike and Kerlon on the long list of footballing wonderkids who failed to come anywhere close to filling their prodigious potential. He is the Norwegian starlet who at the age of just 16, having had the pick of Europe’s biggest and best clubs, signed for Real Madrid.

When there was no immediate impact, no instant emergence of a teenager most fans had only caught a glimpse of on YouTube, Odegaard was written off as a flop. Now, such premature judgements look exceptionally foolish. Still only 21, the Norwegian has flourished into one of La Liga’s very best, albeit not for Real Madrid.

Odegaard is still on the books of Los Blancos, but it is out on loan at Real Sociedad that the midfielder has become the player so many expected him to be as a teenager. Indeed, the Anoeta has given Odegaard the perfect environment to further develop, becoming the dynamo through which the general play of Imanol Alguacil’s side flows.

Handed the opportunity of a second Santiago Bernabeu audition nearly five years after his first and, to date, only home appearance as a Real Madrid player, Odegaard dismantled his parent club in a 3-1 Real Sociedad win in the Copa del Rey in February. It was a performance that for many signalled the Norwegian is ready to return.

Zinedine Zidane has been asked about his plans for Odegaard many times over the course of the season. The 21-year-old’s Sociedad loan was originally planned to stretch for two seasons, but many believe Real Madrid should recall him this summer, particularly with Luka Modric seemingly nearing the end of his time at the club.

The Croatian remains an important figure for Los Blancos, but Zidane is deliberately playing him less frequently. Real Madrid can no longer count on Modric to play every game, especially when the Champions League and Copa del Rey add to the demands. What’s more, Modric is out of contract at the end of the season. A long mooted switch to Serie A could be on the horizon.

As a midfield pace-setter with an eye for a through ball and a natural awareness of space, Odegaard fits the bill as the natural heir to Modric. Replacing the former Ballon d’Or winner won’t be easy, but Real Madrid already boast a player in his mould. For the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, there was no succession plan. Odegaard will ensure there is no void left unfilled whenever Modric exits.

Positionally and stylistically, the parallels between Modric and Odegaard are clear. Like the Croatian, Odegaard is most comfortable on the right side of a central unit. He likes to drift and link up play, driving from deep with the ball at his feet or shooting from distance. The way both players change direction and maintain a low centre of gravity also boosts the comparisons.

There had been hints Odegaard was ready to bloom. The Norwegian had impressed in periods on loan at Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie the season before, but few predicted that he would return to Spain so accomplished on the back of those performances. Now there is a sense of destiny to Odegaard’s trajectory. He will, whether it’s next season or the season after or at another point in the future, star in all white.

While Real Madrid have faced some criticism for the way they hyped up Odegaard only to cut him down at such a young age, they deserve credit for cultivating the young midfielder’s career path to date. Every loan move, first to Heerenveen then to Vitesse then to Real Sociedad, has seen Odegaard progress. Every loan move has seen him handle a step up in quality. The next step will almost surely take him back to the Spanish capital and straight into Modric’s shoes.