Martin Odegaard, the world’s most sought-after youngster, has penned a mouth-watering deal with the European champions, with multiple reports on the continent putting his wage packet at an astonishing £80,000 per week.
Let that sink in: £80,000. A week.
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This is not the time to question football wages in general. All top-flight incomes are distressing given the lavish lifestyles they encourage.
But gifting that amount of money to a 16-year-old is ludicrous. It brings added pressure, both on a personal and external level, at a time when the player’s development is most important.
How is the Norwegian meant to focus on his evolution when he sees a mammoth five-figure sum enter his bank account every week? A teenager living a comparably sheltered life in Norway suddenly thrust into the glitz of elite football with temptations lurking around every corner.
It’s got the makings of a disaster.
And even if he can push aside the financial opportunities, he still has to impress an unforgiving Real support. Just ask Gareth Bale. The £85.3 million world record signing scored the decisive goal in extra time during the Champions League final; little over six months later, he is on the receiving end of the fans’ frustration for failing to pass to Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s what happens when clubs spend big cash – the supporters expect regular results.
Of course, given his tender years Odegaard will be afforded more time than a regular high-profile signing. He will have people around to protect him, namely his father who was reportedly handed a job at Real as part of the deal. He’ll slot into the Real Madrid Castilla setup and continue his development.
But without meaningful competitive action – unless Carlo Ancelotti takes the bold step to instantly promote him – it seems this is too giant a step for one so young. Not to mention that a handful of Real’s first-team players will likely be irked by his rapid pay rise.
He was born in December, 1998, made his first senior appearance in April 2014, aged just 15 years and 117 days, and was handed his Norway debut in August. It was a four-month spell that sparked a frenzy across the continent, with European superclubs desperate to secure the player’s services. Mad, given no one had heard of him nine months ago.
And yet there is a huge difference between plying your trade in Norway’s Tippeligaen – a league that has been without representation in the Champions League group stages since Rosenborg in 2007/08 – and playing for Real Madrid. Clearly he needs a move. But to Madrid? Surely settling at a side renowned for youth development – Ajax, for example – would have been a smarter move. If he continued to improve, that colossal transfer would still have followed.
For Martin Odegaard's sake, I hope he made the right decision. Think best case scenario would have been a smaller team outside top 3 leagues— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) January 21, 2015
So many youngsters tipped to become world beaters have made similar decisions and disappeared. Freddy Adu, Gael Kakuta, Arturo Lupoli, John Bostock, Quincy, to name a few. Whether it was down to a poor attitude, injuries, bad luck or an absence of competitive action, it did not work out for them.
The signs are that Odegaard eclipses them all. He possesses remarkable grace in possession, drawing numerous comparisons to Lionel Messi as a result, and already has vision and creativity of a far more experienced player. But there is a big difference between rinsing Norway’s strongest defences and unlocking some of the world’s most daunting backlines.
Not that it’s his fault. Who could honestly say they would turn down joining the European champions on that sort of cash? The problem, though, is that the attention carries an unfair amount of pressure which could unsettle his development. He has achieved next to nothing in the game, yet the clamour surrounding him is akin to a player fresh from starring at the World Cup.
Nor can you really blame Real Madrid. With over 30 clubs contesting Odegaard’s signature during a lengthy European tour, were the Liga giants meant to sit on the fence and let a rival swoop in? It’s an impossible situation.
Sadly, it speaks volumes about the sorry state of football that an unproven 16-year-old can walk away with a five-figure weekly pay packet. Wages have been spiralling out of control for years, but this is completely different – Odegaard is earning money based purely on his potential.
All Madrid can do now is hide the Odegaard away, allowing him to develop over the next couple of seasons, and avoid the temptation to thrust him into the first-team until they deem him ready. Otherwise we can expect the Norweigan kid to flounder on the big stage, adding his name to the scrapheap of youngsters that were promoted too quickly.
Ben Snowball - on Twitter: @BenSnowball
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