Martin Odegaard trained apart from his team-mates in the gym at Real Madrid‘s Valdebebas training ground on Thursday.
His separation was in part because he played no part in the Copa del Rey debacle against Alcoyano and so there was no need for him to be part of the clear-the-air inquest that took place after Madrid’s worst cup result since 2009.
But it was also because he hopes to resolve his future as quickly as possible and be out on loan by the time Madrid face Alaves on Saturday. Arsenal is an attractive option for the 22-year-old. He could have moved to the Premier League back in 2015 when he was picking out a top European club aged 16.
Martin Odegaard has appeared just nine times for Real Madrid this season and is set for a loan
He has been on an odyssey of loans since choosing to move to Real Madrid and failing to make sufficient progress, at first in Zinedine Zidane’s youth team ‘Real Madrid Castilla’.
The last of those loans was at Real Sociead last season and it’s little wonder they want to compete with Arsenal to borrow him back again for what remains of this campaign.
There is no definitive player of the year award in Spain. If there were, Odegaard would have been on course to win it last season before the coronavirus pandemic closed football down for two months.
He did not come back the same player after the lay-off but if Arsenal do sign him – negotiations started last week and reports in Spain claim he is ‘one step away’ – and manage to rewire him back to the form of the first half of the last campaign they will have one of Europe’s best young players on their hands.
Real Madrid star Luka Modric challenges Odegaard while he was playing for Real Sociedad
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (right) wants to add an attacking midfielder to his squad this month and could take Odegaard off Zinedine Zidane’s hands
Of Real Sociedad’s first 21 games of last season Odegaard played 90 minutes in 19 of them. His bursting runs from midfield, his defence-splitting passes and his sustained high-energy performances were the motor that left Real Sociedad in the Champions League places ahead of lockdown. When football ground to a halt so did the Norwegian. And in the last 10 games of the season he didn’t play 90 minutes once.
Lingering tendonitis problems in his right knee hampered him during that run-in but it seemed he was fixed and good to go again at the start of this season when Zidane picked him for Real Madrid’s first match of the new campaign.
Having previously agreed to let him stay at Real Sociedad for two seasons Real Madrid had recalled him in the summer in response to the economic effects of the pandemic preventing the club signing players. But it has turned out to be the wrong move for everyone.
The Norwegian, who only recently turned 22, trains with Real Madrid earlier this month
He came off after 69 minutes in that first match and despite starting the next game he came off at half- time and spent the next seven out of the starting line-up. He hasn’t played a single 90 minutes in the league and although he trained well ahead of the cup debacle away at Alcoyano he was not in Zidane’s squad.
That decision seems to have been taken by him after not playing any part in Real Madrid’s Spanish Super Cup semi-final defeat against Athletic Bilbao last weekend.
Just 48 hours earlier he had sought assurances from Zidane that he was at the forefront of his plans. Odegaard has always had a slightly strained relationship with Zidane.
When he first turned up at Madrid it seemed he would be living the dream training under the Frenchman and occasionally with the first team when he joined in their sessions. But the agreement, for all that it was stipulated in his contract, was not looked kindly upon by Zidane who also had his son Enzo as an option in Odegaard’s then favoured No 10 position in the B-team.
Zidane has had a strained relationship with Odegaard since his time as Castilla boss – the pair are pictured during a draw with Villarreal back in November
A lot has changed since then. Odegaard has come back a far more complete player. He could play as a lateral midfielder in a 4-3-3 or in the line of three behind the forward in a 4-2-3-1, albeit more comfortably in the centre of the three.
His versatility has made Zidane’s incapacity to find space for him in the team even more frustrating. The French coach is not over-loaded with midfield options beyond his tried and trusted holy trinity of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
Can Arsenal get him despite the interest from Real Sociedad? The Basque club brought David Silva in the summer to replace Odegaard and although he is currently injured they are well covered in those midfield positions and might feel if they have to make a financial sacrifice to bring him back they can’t. Would he thrive at Arsenal? The only doubt is the injury. Tendonitis is a problem that lingers and that requires rest but it seems the player believes he is over it and wants to play.
If he’s fit there are no questions over his quality – just ask the Real Sociedad supporters who watched him play their team into the top four last season.