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Martin Odegaard & Real Madrid: Why he could only find what he needed by joining Arsenal

COMMENT: He can't be happy, surely? Florentino Perez. Real Madrid's president must experience a pang of regret everytime Arsenal and this season's title push is mentioned in conversation...

No great surprise this week when Martin Odegaard was confirmed Premier League Player of the Year at the London Football Awards. Arsenal's captain has been outstanding this season. His football. His leadership. A huge influence on his team's drive to the title. And he's still 24. It's quite something to witness this young, unassuming Norwegian emerge as the figurehead of this reviving of a genuine sleeping giant.

Of course, he's had help along the way. Certainly, Arsenal are no one-man band. Only a true, consistent team could handle the absence of Gabriel Jesus as they have. A collective effort, for sure, though with a leader who epitomises that high consistency in performance.

From a Los Merengues angle, it's crazy. Odegaard is basically Luka Modric - only more advanced at the same age. If ever there was a player to succeed the now 37 year-old Croatian it would be Odegaard. The ability to dictate the tempo of a game. To pass through the lines. Odegaard boasts similar qualities to his former Real Madrid teammate. Only, Odegaard can find you a goal. He can work a set-piece. We're not saying Odegaard is currently at Modric's level - but he's well on his way.

And everything we're seeing from the Norwegian today is what Florentino envisioned for a then 16 year-old Odegaard almost eight years ago. The talent and potential was there. The maturity. The calm, levelheadedness. Odegaard, at 16, displayed everything that Arsenal have been leaning on this season.

But that was when he first hit the training pitches at Valdebebas. All potential and promise. Odegaard was the jewel of Florentino's newly-designed transfer policy. The Zidane y Pavones approach replaced with a hybrid of buying outstanding young talent - from anywhere in the world - and bringing them through the academy and Castilla. Odegaard, Sergio Diaz, Abner, Phillip Lienhart... they were all recruited from across the globe. But all found themselves lost within the system. Fede Valverde made his way through. But the majority fell away as the demands of Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane's reluctance to work with young players took its toll.

Many didn't come out the other side. They arrived with great reputations and even greater potential. But never hit the heights scouts and scribes were predicting as they were enrolled with the La Fabrica academy. And it must be said, Odegaard was threatening to drop into that category.

Speaking to Lauren this week, the Arsenal Invincible told that everyone inside Spanish football were convinced of Odegaard's potential. The question was, as the former Real Mallorca and Sevilla wing-back told us, could he do it consistently? And furthermore could he do so at the level that Real Madrid demands?

"I always loved this player," he told us. "I watched him since his time with Real Sociedad. It was just about whether he could find a club where he could develop his talent."

Of course, Odegaard has dispelled all such doubts. And the great irony is, at least for those watching from Madrid, is that the midfield schemer's career has been invigorated by a Spanish coach.

Mikel Arteta has effectively launched Odegaard's career. Everything he couldn't get from Zidane, Odegaard has received from his Gunners manager. The support. The confidence. The belief. This was what Odegaard missed as a Real Madrid player. As Lauren stated, no-one doubted the ability of the Norwegian in Spain. But it took a Basque in London to deliver the key to Odegaard's success: blind trust.

And that's what we've witnessed this season. It's been the rebuilding of a player's - a potentially great player's - self-belief and confidence. From wunderkind. To reject. And now to leading the Premier League title favourites. This hasn't come easy for Odegaard. As much as he's been celebrated today, there was just as many doubting he'd ever fulfill that promise he showed at Stromsgodset.

But at Arsenal, with this new culture driven through the club by Arteta, he is. Another manager. Among another set of teammates. Odegaard just isn't reaching the same heights.

It's taken this Arsenal to give Odegaard the platform to fulfill his potential. And truth be told, it was something he was never going to get at Real Madrid. Even Florentino would have to acknowledge that.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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