·6 December 2023
·6 December 2023
Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar has suggested that Real Madrid lacked the patience to get the best out of Martin Odegaard, who has thrived since joining the Gunners.
Odegaard made just 11 first-team appearances for Madrid and spent more than half of his six years at the club out on loan. Arsenal took the Norwegian star on loan in January 2021 and made it a permanent deal for an initial £30m plus add-ons a few months later.
He became club captain in the summer of 2022, aged just 23, and has been a major part of Arsenal's resurgence as a genuine force within the Premier League.
"There are players who work well on one [team] and poorly on another. It depends on good moments, opportunities," Edu, whose role overseeing football operations has been transformative, told Marca.
"Our strategy is and was to sign young players, and he fitted [that profile]. He came on loan and then we decided to buy him. We had been following Martin for many years and perhaps we have had the patience that others have not. He is now one of our captains, enjoying himself, and one of the recognisable faces of our team."
Madrid won a transfer battle contested by many of Europe's biggest clubs in January 2015 when Odegaard, having only turned 16 a few weeks earlier, chose to join them ahead of Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Juventus and Bayern Munich. The youngster liked Lionel Messi and Barcelona would have been an option too but for a transfer ban that was in place throughout 2015.
He and his father visited many of in late 2014, even partaking in training with Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern. A year earlier, he had also trained with Manchester United's academy, while Odegaard personally dined with Arsene Wenger as part of Arsenal's attempted wooing – many years later the player admitted not eating the chips that came with his steak in case Wenger judged him.
Ultimately, he opted for Madrid and was unveiled to the world's media to much fanfare. Part of the agreement that had been proposed to all suitors was that Odegaard would immediately train with the first-team. Madrid was no different, but despite spending Monday to Friday with superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, he would play games at the weekend with the B team. That left him in a difficult place, part of both squads but never truly belonging to either.
Still only 16, Odegaard made his senior debut as a replacement for Ronaldo on the final day of the 2014/15 season. In reality, he was still too young in a squad with too much competition to make the impact to result in playing time. He didn't play any first-team games in 2015/16 and made only one Copa del Rey appearance in 2016/17, joining Heerenveen on loan midway through that season.
Loans were invaluable and Odegaard found his feet during subsequent spells at Vitesse Arnhem and later back in Spain with Real Sociedad. He was 21 by then and, having returned to Madrid ahead of the 2020/21 season, it was felt that it might finally be his time to justify the hype from five years earlier. Just nine appearances later – only three of which were starts – Odegaard's patience ran out and Madrid's loss has ultimately been proven to be Arsenal's gain.