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Football fans are always hearing about the latest ‘wonderkids’ from all four corners of the globe, with terms like ‘The Next Messi’ and ‘The New Ronaldo’ being attached to youngsters who are then thrown into the spotlight to be judged and analysed before they’ve even finished puberty.
Being a teenager isn’t easy; it’s a confusing period of life, but most teens’ biggest worries concern high school exams and classroom crushes. Teenage footballers, however, can have a simply astronomical level of pressure thrust upon them, and it must be a very overwhelming thing to have to deal with.
Some young players find ways to cope and develop into the superstars they were always destined to be, with Kylian Mbappé being a prime example, but more often than not, the weight of a nation’s expectations is far too great for any set of teenage shoulders to bear.
Martin Odegaard is one of the best recent examples of a young player receiving far too much hype and attention and consequently making some disastrous career moves. Born to a former footballer, Odegaard broke one record after another, becoming the youngest player to ever feature in Norway’s Tippeligaen and earning his first international cap before he turned 16.
The Norwegian’s whirlwind rise culminated with a move to Real Madrid. Due to his young age, Odegaard was brought in to mostly play and train with the reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla, but fans quickly called for the kid to feature for the first team, bigging him up as the club’s latest prodigy.
The youngster did make his senior debut at the tender age of 16 in a one-sided win over Getafe, but that was to be his only appearance in La Liga so far. A promising attacking midfielder, Odegaard drew comparisons with the likes of David Silva for his creativity and passing precision, but it was ludicrous to expect such an inexperienced youngster to be able to make it in the big leagues so quickly.
Even with Castilla, he had some good matches but rarely shined alongside many other exciting young talents. After a couple of solid but unspectacular seasons, a loan move seemed like the right idea for everyone, and Odegaard was shipped off to Heerenveen in 2017 for an 18-month spell in the Netherlands.
A mediocre return of three goals scored in 38 league appearances shows that the young Norwegian didn’t set the Eredivisie ablaze, but some good form towards the end of last year led to an international recall, and Odegaard began a new Dutch adventure in the summer, joining Vitesse for the 2018-19 season.
He’s yet to score for his new club but has put together some impressive performances in the league, showing glimpses of his greatness on a more regular basis than before. Football fans have been talking about Odegaard since 2014, so it feels like he’s been around for quite a while, but he’s still just 19, learning the game and honing his raw skills.
Odegaard has potential. That much is evident, and time is most definitely on his side. We can’t be sure if he’ll ever live up to the outrageous hype he once garnered or if he’ll ever feature for Real in the seasons to come, but his story should serve as a lesson about the dangers of unrealistic expectations.
Dazzled by their skills, fans forget that footballers are only human. Blinded by the bright lights of big money moves, players forget to look at the bigger picture. It’s easier than ever for young footballing stars to lose their way, and Odegaard’s career shows that patience is paramount for precocious talents.
Had he stayed in Norway or moved to a smaller side, things might have panned out differently, but right now, Martin Odegaard needs to rebuild a fractured reputation, and his slow but steady improvements in the Dutch division are getting him off to a fine start.