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After a nomadic start to a fledgling career which is now starting to live up to early expectations Martin Odegaard feels he has found his “home” at Arsenal.
Making his first-team debut for Stromsgodset as a 15-year-old, still at school and unable to sign a professional contract, Odegaard quickly caught the eye of a number of top European clubs.
Training sessions at Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Liverpool would follow but it was Real Madrid who landed the teenager in January 2015.
Odegaard, having already made his senior Norway debut at 15, had the world at his feet but, like a tough-tackling defender, life would put in a number of challenges in an attempt to wrestle it away.
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The playmaker who had broken records and made the transition into the men’s game while still a schoolboy was no longer getting things his own way.
Chances at Madrid were at a premium, loan spells to Holland – first with Heerenveen and later with Vitesse – were followed by a stint at Real Sociedad.
A sustained spell at the Bernabeu would never materialise and Odegaard would make just eight LaLiga appearances before a 2021 loan move to Arsenal was turned into a permanent deal last summer.
Asked by the PA news agency if he now felt more settled than ever, Odegaard replied: “Yes, definitely.
“I feel like I’m home now. I have had time to settle down – for the last five years I’ve been all over the place with loans here and there.
“So I feel like I’ve finally got that stability and the calmness I needed. So I’m really happy, yes.”
I feel like I'm home now. I have had time to settle down - for the last five years I've been all over the place with loans here and there.
- Martin Odegaard
Having impressed during the second half of last season, Odegaard was signed by Arsenal in August for a reported £30million.
His relief at returning was clear for all to see as, even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, he hugged staff at Arsenal’s London Colney training base – such was his delight at the move.
This season, Odegaard has kicked on.
His five goals and four assists do not do justice to his involvement nor his influence on a young Arsenal side now favourites to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Odegaard opened the scoring in Sunday’s 3-2 win at Watford with a contender for the club’s goal of the season award and is aiming for Champions League football with the Gunners.
“Obviously that is the target,” he said.
“So we will do everything to get there and we will take it game by game and try to win each one and then we’ll see in the end – but of course, that’s the big goal and I believe we can do it. I think we have the quality to do it.”
Arsenal’s last two seasons have ended with eighth-place finishes, so what convinced Odegaard last summer that he wanted to return to the Emirates Stadium?
“The project,” he replied.
“The way the club and the manager wanted to do things, what they wanted to build here and how they they wanted to play and to improve.
“Also what they said about me and how they wanted to use me, how they saw me as a player and what I could bring to the team and what they could offer to me.
“It was just the combination of all those things and the big project that is going on here, I wanted to be a part of that.”
Mikel Arteta has given his young talent licence to take control of the club’s destiny this season – the average age of their team has hovered at just over the 24 mark, the youngest in the league.
“He gives a lot of trust to the young players and I think for him, the most important thing is what you do and not your age,” Odegaard said of Arteta.
“So of course that was also important to me and especially how we want to play and I think that the way he wants to play football is good for me.
“The togetherness is something special here, I’ve never seen something like this in my football career and there’s a lot of competition but still people just want the best for the team.
“We always want the team to win and the team spirit is really good and I think the connection we have off the pitch as well helps us on the pitch.
“It is definitely something special going on here and I feel like everyone really wants to get the club back up to the top, so that’s the feeling behind it.”
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