When Martin Ødegaard made his senior Real Madrid debut, at 16 years and 157 days, it was Carlo Ancelotti who put the young Norwegian in the game, a 7-3 win over Getafe in the last game of 2014/15. Now Ancelotti is back at Real Madrid and Ødegaard is 22, which could be the most important season of his career.
We don’t yet know if Ødegaard will stay at Real Madrid for 2021/22 or if he will get more stamps on his passport being sent on another loan, but we already know a lot about his past relationship with Ancelotti. So, let’s take a look.
When Ødegaard was signed by Real Madrid from Strømsgodset in January 2015, Ancelotti had some concerns about the signing. We know this because he reflected on it later in his book “Quiet Leadership: Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches”. The Italian’s description of Ødegaard’s arrival as “a PR exercise” grabbed the headlines, but he actually said a lot more than that.
So, to keep nothing out of context, here is Ancelotti’s full passage on Ødegaard’s arrival in 2015: he’s coming or not because he’s not going to play for me now ”. He might become the best player in the world after I leave, but signing doesn’t interest me because it doesn’t matter to my job. Of course, when he arrived I treated him with the same respect I would give any young player, but why would I want to be involved in his recruiting? He is recruited for the future, for other managers after my visit. It is always vital to respect the vision of the owners. Florentino Pérez was well known for his Galácticos approach, where the biggest and dearest superstars in world football are recruited, so players come and go who wouldn’t necessarily have been my choice, but it was my job to make the team work with what the assets that have been entrusted to me. It is a waste of time and energy to fight something that has already happened. You have to manage it. After all, that’s why we are called managers. If the president decides that for a PR exercise he needs the Norwegian boy to play three games with the first team, I’ll find a way to do it.
For me it is fascinating. It is rare for coaches to release such a book while working out and it is even rarer for coaches to then return to a club they have discussed in depth or rework with a player they have publicly dissected. But, get out the popcorn, because that’s exactly the scenario we have here.
Perhaps the most important line in Ancelotti’s passage over the Norwegian is “I treated him with the same respect I would give any young player.” While the Italian may have had concerns that Real Madrid would sign such a young star and throw him into first-team training, he supported the midfielder as he does with all his players. In April 2015, Ødegaard was briefly excluded from playing for Castilla, but Ancelotti brushed off all criticism of the teenager. Whenever it came to Ødegaard having a bad attitude in training, Ancelotti rejected him. “We are all convinced that he will become an important player for Real Madrid, but we have to be patient,” the manager said that spring.
Ultimately, Ancelotti gave Ødegaard his debut at the very end of the 2014/15 campaign, giving the youngster half an hour in what turned out to be the Italian’s last game at the head of the club. There was no way he would have done it if there had been something at stake in this game, but, with nothing to play for, this win over Getafe was essentially a friendly game dressed in LaLiga Santander colors. . And that allowed Ancelotti to tick this “public relations exercise” box.
As mentioned earlier, it’s important to take Ancelotti’s comments in the right context. Fortunately, this is exactly what Ødegaard did. “I think it may have been a bit misinterpreted by some, but it’s like that and it’s not something I stress about,” the playmaker told TV2 in Norway, discussing the book from his new trainer. “What he said was probably that I was a player for the future. He’s a coach I know and had a good relationship with during his last visit.”
The last time he was there was a long time ago, however. Six years have passed since Ødegaard’s first training sessions at Real Madrid under the Italian and the Norwegian is no longer a ‘boy’. He’s been on four separate loan periods in three different countries, maturing a lot.
Now in this pre-season Ancelotti has encountered a very different Ødegaard and reports from Valdebebas explain that the coach was very impressed with the midfielder in training. It was Ødegaard who would have been the star of the friendly 3-1 behind closed doors victory over Fuenlabrada, even scoring one of the goals.
Ancelotti is known to love No 10s, which is why there is still a good chance Ødegaard will stay at Real Madrid for 2021/22. There are friendlies against Rangers and AC Milan in the coming weeks, which we get to see, and they could be key in determining Ødegaard’s future and role.
“It’s for other managers after my time,” Ancelotti said in this book. Well, even if he wasn’t expecting it, Ancelotti is now that manager.