Lewis Ambrose·1 July 2023
Lewis Ambrose·1 July 2023
Welcome to the fourth annual edition of the Ballon d’OneFootball as we continue our countdown of the top 25 players in the world right now. Here’s an explainer how we decided on a top 25.
And today we have …
After years of waiting, 2022/23 finally delivered the big stage breakthrough fans have been waiting almost a decade to see from Martin Ødegaard.
In January 2015, having just turned 16, Ødegaard was wanted by almost every club on the planet and signed for Real Madrid. If he wasn’t a household name already, he became one then.
It has felt like a long wait to see the midfielder shine on the biggest of stages and live up to his obvious promise but he finally did in 2022/23.
Handed the captain’s armband last summer, the Norwegian is a true leader on the field. When things are going well, Ødegaard is the team’s conductor: he dictates play, conducts attacks, picks locks.
And when things are going badly, he rallies the troops, dropping deeper to help Arsenal play out from the back and harrying out of possession to win the ball and force errors much more than you’d expect from a traditional creative midfielder.
It extends beyond the pitch, too. Take your seat at the Emirates Stadium for a game that isn’t going Arsenal’s way and you will see Ødegaard turning to the fans in the North Bank, pumping his arms, urging them to turn the notch up on the volume to give their side an extra step.
Then there’s the class he oozes that allows him to be a player who can take control of a game or demand more from his supporters.
Ødegaard is technically as good as they get but you never get the feeling you’re seeing his full repertoire of tricks because he only pulls them out when necessary. Watch closely for long enough and you’ll find they’re sprinkled throughout a season, not each game.
Your rewards are moments that make you jump out of your seat: a ridiculous nutmeg on the turn against West Ham here, an unbelievable dragback and through ball against Brighton there, an audacious faked pass against Brentford to top the lot.
And the last 12 months have seen a player previously thought of mainly as a creator add extra goal threat to his game. No Arsenal player scored more than his 15 goals last season.
Two trademark finished have emerged for the Norwegian. One, a low, driven effort into the near post from distance, like memorable goals against Tottenham and Newcastle.
The other — arriving late in the box to sweep home cutbacks, like at Bournemouth and a brace against Chelsea — is what has Mikel Arteta really excited.
“He has believed that he has to play closer to the box: play less and get there more. His numbers are very good and at the age of 24 he can still improve,” the Arsenal manager said in an interview last week.
And keeping that last part in mind — the fact that Ødegaard’s best years should still be ahead of him — is very exciting indeed.