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The rumours, no matter how unlikely, concerning Gareth Bale’s exit from Real Madrid, with Manchester United the possible destination, continue to flow. He has 36 goals in 18 months in Madrid, but the strained relationship between Real’s record £85 million signing and the fans, first showing itself last January after misplacing a pass against Granada before the boos returned earlier this month after he failed to pass to Cristiano Ronaldo, has so far undermined his time in Spain.
Winning goals in the finals of the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League have been highlights but in the minds of Real Madrid fans- expecting Ronaldo levels of return on his world record fee- they have counted for little in a stint that has been hampered by injury, accusations of poor work-rate and the form of Isco in his absence.
Bale hasn’t been poor since joining from Spurs, far from it in fact, but he so far hasn’t reflected the billing to which Madrid projected him with that obscene transfer fee, which is of course isn’t the Welshman’s fault. Now a similar predicament faces 16 year old Martin Odegaard.
Odegaard was in Madrid last week for his unveiling after making a £2.2 million move from Stromsgodset- the fee is set to rise to a potential £8 million should he reach simple objectives- in front of a packed press room, the excitement was clear.
Madrid already had the symbolic victory of beating Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Arsenal and Paris St Germain to the Norwegian’s signature and the potential is huge. The midfielder is Norway’s youngest ever debutant and goal-scorer, his former manager Ronny Deila described him as “special” and to celebrate his signing, Real released a mouth-watering video to showcase his undeniable talent to the world. It is not just his ability that separates his brilliance but an attitude that so many believe will see him stay on the route to the top.
Describing the lengths Real went to securing his services can give some indication into the extent of Odegaard’s ability. To ensure his signing they have given Hans-Erik Odegaard, Martin’s father, a role as youth team coach, while also paying the teenager an £80,000-a-week wage.
That has already caused issues among Madrid’s reserve side, where Odegaard is likely to spend his first months in Spain as Madrid seek to run his development with caution, with captain Sergio Aguza making clear his envy of the riches the Norwegian has been given. Aguza will also be denied the same opportunities, Odegaard will train with the first-team but will play with the reserves.
Odegaard only has to look to Aguza, a player who also joined Real as a 16 year old only to see his career fail to take off, for warning. The midfielder is now 22 but has yet to make a first-team appearance for Real since joining them in 2008, managing 23 appearances for the B side while staying mostly a regular for the Castilla team in the third tier of Spanish football.
It is unlikely Odegaard’s career, given the clear signs of an extraordinary talent, will follow a similar path of stagnation, but Aguza is just one of many cases of players who have failed to successfully realise their true potential as they age into the maturity of late-teens and early-20s.
Madrid will also be familiar with many of those cases. Samuel Eto’o was a fellow 16 year old signing but he only managed 3 games for Real before leaving for Mallorca while Esteban Cambiasso was also 16 when he joined from Argentinos Juniors. The Argentine would be loaned back to his native league on a couple of occasions before moving to Inter Milan on a free as a 24 year old. It would then ire Madrid to watch him lift the Champions League, alongside Eto’o and another Real-reject Wesley Sneijder, in the Bernebau in 2010.
Juan Mata, Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo would all fail to make the cut in Madrid’s academy but total over £130 million in transfer fees over the past five years. Real would not reap that money, nor the brilliance of Eto’o, Cambiasso and Sneijder in their prime, and would instead have to keep subscribing to the ‘Galactico’ policy of constant investment in order to wrestle league and European dominance away from bitter rivals Barcelona.
Again, this would be irksome to Florentino Perez and Real, aware that Barca’s juggernaut under Pep Guardiola was founded on a group of supremely gifted academy products. How Madrid longed to replicate that, but simply found it beyond their reach. “You have to know how to manage a youth system, and Madrid aren’t doing that” said Negredo, who failed to make a single appearance for Real despite two spells with the club.
Whether Real will heed the lessons of the recent past and alter their approach in managing precious young talent will now come under intense scrutiny with Odegaard, as the club try desperately to nurture and mould their own Ballon D’Or winner instead of attempting to break the bank on one every summer.
But such are the finances already involved on a player unable to drink alcohol in his native country and only just out of compulsory education, the attention on the Norwegian will be microscopic. The private jets, the VIP treatment and the packed press-boxes, with all that comes ludicrously high expectation.
Odegaard will have to be very special to justify it all, anything less and the critics will find their voice. They may have compromised Odegaard’s career before it has even truly begun.
Written by Adam Gray
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