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Florentino & Odegaard: Why Real Madrid's president must envy the success of Arsenal's young captain

COMMENT: For Florentino Perez, there'll be frustration - but also some satisfaction. Watching on from afar, Real Madrid's president will feel vindicated over the current success of his protégé, Martin Odegaard...

'Protégé' is perhaps a little loose. Florentino wasn't alone in driving the deal to sign a 15 year-old Odegaard seven years ago. But as he is now forced to only observe and wonder 'what if', Real's president can claim he was definitely the most high profile to champion Odegaard's cause inside the club's four walls.

And we say 'what if' because there is definite regret inside the boardroom over the way Odegaard was allowed to be shunned while on Real's books. Now captain of Arsenal. Now leading a locker room that sits clear at the top of the Premier League table. And doing so at the age of just 23. Odegaard is showing everything Florentino's most trusted staff inside La Fabrica enthused about during those famous trials back in 2015. The teen also tested at Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Liverpool. Dad Hans Erik giving every major club the chance to see up close what their Scandinavian scouts were raving about. But it was Florentino who pulled the trigger, convinced by the Stromsgodset prospect's potential.

Seven years on and that potential is being realised. A player thriving under his Spanish manager Mikel Arteta. Running Arsenal's midfield. And all to a tempo and a system not unlike Real Madrid have long employed. In the Gunners red-and-white, Odegaard looks every inch that potential world-beater Valdebebas staff had predicted.

For Florentino. For his No2, Jose Angel Sanchez. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was Real Madrid, not Arsenal, where Odegaard was to establish himself. "A ten year player", one long time member of Valdebebas coaching staff lamented to this column earlier this month. That's how they initially saw Odegaard. It's how they see him today. He was the pearl of Florentino's shift to buying them younger - and cheaper. The Galacticos era had done it's job. A new approach was drawn up. Enacted. And Odegaard was the headliner.

The talent. The potential. It was there. But it was also Odegaard's character. Calm. Stable. Mature. Here was a future leader. One to set the tone and the culture of a dressing room. Odegaard was earmarked for all that back then. At least by those whom mattered to Florentino.

Ruben Selles, now on staff at Southampton, worked with Odegaard at Stromsgodset. The Spaniard (again that Spanish influence) seeing seven years ago exactly what had convinced Real's staff: "I don't like comparisons but I'd say he's similar in style to Messi. Great with the ball at his feet and can dribble really well. He's an electrifying player that can attack from both sides."

Of course at senior level, he never had a chance. Carlo Ancelotti mocked him. Zinedine Zidane ignored him. Only Florentino would push Odegaard's cause - though without any demands of his head coach.

Just a year into his six seasons on the books of Real, at 17, Odegaard found himself ridiculed by Ancelotti in his book, 'Quiet Leadership', "When Florentino buys a Norwegian footballer, you simply have to accept it.

"Furthermore, the president decided that he would play three games with the first team as a public relations exercise.

"He could be the best player in the world, but I don't care because he was not a player who I asked for. That signing was to do with PR."

Four years later and having begun to forge a reputation after a successful spell with Real Sociedad, Odegaard fared little better under Zidane. The Frenchman, it must be said, rated Odegaard as a footballer (unlike Ancelotti), but as was consistently the case, would always go with experience over youth, "I can't choose them all. There is Isco..."

Watching from the sidelines was Florentino. While we know the opinion of those who work the La Fabrica training pitches, this column can't say the same of the president. But you do fancy he wishes he was stronger with Ancelotti and Zizou... Particularly as he draws up another 12 month deal for a 37 year-old Luka Modric.

Being moved centrally from the flank. Handed a free role. Encouraged and coaxed to go past and pass through players. Arteta has brought everything out of Odegaard that was ignored by Ancelotti and Zidane. The 23 year-old is basically another - much younger - version of the Croatian. And these players don't grow on trees. In style. In character. In leadership. As a package, the Norwegian looks every bit a potential Modric successor.

And they had him. By rights, at least for Florentino, there should be no need to set aside a budget to find the next Real Madrid playmaker. Odegaard was it. He was always it. That is, except for the president's two former coaches.

Frustration? Vindication? Whatever Florentino is feeling as he watches Odegaard lead this great revival at Arsenal, no-one can say that Real Madrid's president cannot pick a player.



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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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