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  • Martin Odegaard was the subject of much scrutiny after signing with Real Madrid at the age of 15, but following some experience on loan, he's coming into his own, and the 20-year-old Norwegian is blossoming at Real Sociedad.
By 90Min
September 27, 2019

La Liga's season is a mere six games old, but it has already conjured up a number of very interesting narratives. The traditional top three of Spain look nowhere near as imposing as in previous years, with cries of crisis from the fanbases of both Madrid clubs and Barcelona. 

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the big clubs' slow starts has been Real Sociedad, which currently sits in second place, just one point behind Los Blancos - who have the small matter of a Madrid derby to contend with this weekend

The reasons behind Sociedad's success are multi-faceted, but special attention - and credit - must be given to one particular ingredient in the uptick in La Real's fortunes: The arrival of Martin Odegaard. 

Brought in on loan from Real Madrid in the summer, the midfielder personally choose to come to the Reale Arena over a host of other top European clubs. 

"I had many offers, including from teams in the Champions League, but I felt strongly for La Real from the first minute," Odegaard told Marca.

That decision is now paying dividends for his manager Imanol Alguacil, as the Norwegian has provided the spark that has ignited the side's more functional parts and produced an eye-catching inferno. 

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/GettyImages

This was nowhere more apparent than in Sociedad's 3-0 demolition of Alavés on Thursday. 

Picking the ball up on the right flank and under pressure from Tomás Pina, Odegaard, in one fluid motion, flicked the ball through the defensive midfielder's legs, opened up his body and picked out a pass - and what a pass it was. 

Somehow, as if he had been gifted with footballing omniscience for a brief moment, the 20-yard had managed to spot the run of Mikel Oyarzabal and played a millimeter-perfect through ball to find the Sociedad No. 10.

 

Oyarzabal finished it off but did not celebrate - not for himself anyway. He was straight off to embrace a grinning Odegaard, who had just provided the assist of the season, playing for a club that finished ninth in the league last campaign. 

The picture painted on social media was that this glorious moment was the 20-year-old finally returning from the footballing wilderness, the reality was much different. 

Odegaard has been brilliant for Sociedad all season, starring in the side's wins over Atletico Madrid and Espanyol recently, but even before this the youngster has been developing at an alarming rate, away from all the intense media scrutiny that came with being signed by Real Madrid at the age of 15. 

After stunning the world by paying €4m for the teenager, Los Blancos struggled to find a place for the Norwegian at the club, deciding it was best that he spent some time away in order to accrue playing time. 

The first of these loan moves was agreed to in January 2017, with Dutch side SC Heerenveen agreeing to take the attacking midfielder for 18 months. The second, a move to Vitesse Arnhem - so often a graveyard for Chelsea's young players - was where Odegaard's career really kicked into gear.

Under the tutelage of Leonid Slutsky last season, the Norwegian improved physically. Beefing up, becoming more agile and increasing his top speed all allowed him to exert an influence more consistently. Instead of being confiding to brief moments of magic once or twice a game, Odegaard was now humiliating midfielders nearly twice his age on a regular basis.

His increased influence was reflected in his improved goals and assists record. In fact, his entire statistical output went up under Slutsky. Overall, Odeegaard would register 11 goals and 12 assists during the the 2018/2019 season, though you need to delve a little bit deeper to truly appreciate the influence that the Russian had on his game.

The 20-year-old averaged 3.5 key passes per game for Vitesse, also completing almost three dribbles and two tackles every ninety minutes. Odegaard was slowly blossoming into a complete midfielder and Slutsky knew it. 

"I would like to continue working with him, but consider the chance at almost zero per cent," the Vitesse manager told Dazn (via Tribal Football).

"I don't know exactly what kind of club would be good for Martin, but he's 100% ready for another level. Maybe he will play for Real Madrid next season, who knows?"

ANDER GILLENEA/GettyImages

Despite these encouraging signs, there were doubts about whether the Norwegian could replicate this form in more demanding La Liga conditions. He has - though not for Los Blancos as Slutsky had predicted. This begs the question: what on earth were Real Madrid doing letting him leave for San Sebastián? 

Although it is an admittedly small sample size, there can be no denying that Odegaard has been one of the best player in the league so far this campaign. He would surely inject a bit of spice and energy into what is an increasingly jaded-looking Los Blancos midfield. 

In the Champions League tie against PSG in particular, Zinedine Zidane would have been crying out for a player of Odegaard's talents. 

Only time will tell how much Real Madrid will regret the decision to let Odegaard depart for the season, but if he keeps up his current form, his parent club will surely take the €2 million hit to get him back a season early.

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