REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Odegaard impresses as Zidane's men prepare for season start

Martin Odegaard, the most notable addition to Real Madrid's squad for 2020/21, has impressed in pre-season training, despite struggling with a knee issue.

Real Madrid: Odegaard impresses as Zidane's men prepare for season start

“Good, Martin, good!” That has been a shout heard regularly during training at Valdebebas, and the man on the end of the praise is by no means a new face. Quite the contrary: it’s Martin Odegaard, whose return from Real Sociedad has made him the most notable addition to Real Madrid’s squad for the 2020/21 season.

The Norwegian has been earning roars of approval from his team-mates in ‘rondos’ and from his head coach, Zinedine Zidane, in the various drills the squad has been put through. He’s made quite an impression in his first days back with Madrid.

The 21-year-old, who had been expecting to spend another year on loan at La Real, a club where he found an environment that allowed him to flourish in LaLiga, received Zidane’s summer call with a mixture of surprise and apprehension. His arrival back at the Bernabéu had come a year ahead of schedule.

Knee problem preventing Odegaard from training flat out

However, the inescapable truth is that Odegaard had done more than enough last term to merit his return to the Spanish capital. In a quirk of fate, Real Madrid travel to San Sebastián to take on La Real in their first game of the LaLiga season - but with a week to go until Los Blancos get their campaign underway, his availability for the trip to Reale Arena is in doubt due to a knee complaint that has so far prevented him from training at absolutely full pace.

Owing to the injury issue, Odegaard asked Norway to release him from the squad for their recent UEFA Nations League fixtures against Austria and Northern Ireland, the player preferring to work on his knee with Madrid from day one of pre-season training. It was a move that went down well with the club’s coaching staff, who see it as a sign of his commitment to the cause.

Knee knocks notwithstanding, what has most struck Odegaard’s team-mates is the physical shape he's in, having checked himself in for muscle-conditioning sessions at Granada’s CAR high-performance training centre before reporting for the new season. He was at pains to repay the faith Zidane has shown in him by bringing him back.

Odegaard after a Real Sociedad match last season.

Odegaard versatility a plus for Norwegian

The Madrid boss, who knows Odegaard well from their time together with Castilla, the club’s ‘B’ team, can field him in a number of different roles - a versatility that ought to boost his prospects of establishing himself as a significant figure. A natural successor to Luka Modric, he can operate on the side of a three-man midfield, on the wing and at number 10. Furthermore, where he can majorly influence the play is by dropping in alongside Casemiro to help the Brazilian bring the ball out from deep.

When Madrid beat clubs such as Bayern Munich and Liverpool to Odegaard’s signature in 2015, the transfer signalled the beginning of the club’s policy of signing youngsters who could some day blossom into Bernabéu stars. Five years on, he has made the breakthrough into Los Blancos’ squad. Not only that, but he’s become the face of the Norway team, having been chosen to model the country’s new shirt. Youth, talent, confidence and potential - those are the words that sum Odegaard up.

Odegaard models Norway's new shirt.

Five years since Odegaard made Real Madrid bow

Odegaard made his senior Madrid debut on the final matchday of the 2014/15 LaLiga season, then-boss Carlo Ancelotti sending him on for Cristiano Ronaldo in the second half of a 7-3 win over Getafe. During his half an hour on the pitch, the 16-year-old offered glimpses of what he could one day produce, in a cameo that saw him complete 18 out of 19 passes - eight of which in his own half and 10 in the opposition half - win the ball back once, lose it three times and win one foul. That kid has now become a man.