Thursday, June 20, 2024

Martin Odegaard: The ‘quiet’ captain

There’s not a lot of midweek stuff going on. One of the ‘benefits’ of winning at the weekend is that you get to enjoy the three points, but there’s no need for a great deal of introspection.

There is no call for a 2000 word piece on what went wrong and how we fix it because it didn’t go wrong and it doesn’t need fixing. Similarly, we can look at something a bit special like that Gabriel Jesus first touch in the build-up to the goal and be varying levels of aroused by it, but it’d be a bit weird to keep going on and on about it.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of things leftover that didn’t really get a mention on the blog, and the first one is Martin Odegaard. With All Or Nothing now consigned to history for most us, I did notice a bit of comment about how quiet he seemed to be in the dressing room, and for some this was a bit of a worry because he’s now the captain of the club.

First, let’s remember that what we saw in the documentary was what the makers of it chose to show, and also what Arsenal permitted them to show. The fact that Odegaard was quiet in it after a poor result doesn’t mean he didn’t have anything to say. Secondly, and quite importantly, he made it clear he didn’t much like having the cameras around, saying:

I don’t feel any need to talk when the camera is there. I am a little bit more shy when the camera is there, but I think there was a lot more that happened then you see in the documentary.

It’s worth remembering that for football players, the dressing room is usually a very private place. The ‘What happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room’ thing is basically sacrosanct. Managers usually refuse to divulge anything that goes on in there, especially during difficult moments in a season, and players themselves know that once that door is shut, nothing comes out (unless you have some leaky elements, and as we know at Arsenal, they’re all gone now).

So for me, the assertion that the Arsenal dressing room is a bit quiet or lacks characters has to be put in the context of every single one of those players knowing there is a camera recording every single thing they say and do – not to mention they can’t be sure which bits might be used in a documentary. How would you feel if your boss came in tomorrow and told you that for 9 months you were going to on camera every single moment of your working day? Would it impact how you behaved, in what you said and what you did? I think that would be perfectly normal. It would be weird and disconcerting, and I think it’s telling that there almost always nothing said after a game that didn’t go well. It’s not because there wasn’t anything to say, it’s that lots of it shouldn’t be said in front of cameras, regardless of any editorial control the club might have had.

In fact, I think Odegaard’s aversion to it is completely natural, and speaks to his intelligence. Which isn’t a criticism of the documentary makers, by the way, but to me it’s just normal to be cautious when you’re subject to the whims of a reality TV show. If you don’t know what soundbite might be used and in what context, you’re better off keeping your mouth shut. There was obviously plenty we didn’t get to see in All Or Nothing, there was almost zero coverage of technical and tactical things – something quite deliberate on the part of Mikel Arteta, I’m sure. Nor did we see much in the way of team meetings and instructions, beyond some fairly bland ‘You know what to do stuff’.

For a manager whose players talk often about the level of preparation, there’s a big chunk missing, and when you consider Odegaard is in some ways the manager’s tactical leader on the pitch, it’s weird to assume that he has nothing to say and that there weren’t discussions about things like that. Here’s Arteta – himself a former captain with plenty to say during his time with the armband, and who obviously know the role well – on the decision to make him captain:

He’s well respected by everybody around the team, he’s admired by all the staff, he has the experience even though he’s 23, he has done it for the national team. He has a passion about the game that he promotes every single day around the club and the way he plays.

It’s clear the documentary Odegaard is not the ‘real’ Odegaard, so to make judgements on his capacity to do the job of captain based on that just doesn’t make any sense. I do think the leadership group appointments of Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus are good, making the Brazilian one of that trio was particularly smart in my opinion, but while the Norwegian may not be the archetypal ‘English’ captain that so many long for, that kind of character is extremely rare, and almost anachronistic at this point. You can lead in all kinds of ways, and two goals at the weekend to help the team to three points is unquestionably one of them.

The other thing I was going to mention was Aaron Ramsdale’s post-game interview on Sky. I’ve pretty much run out of time this morning, but what he said is well worth a read. I think he comes across really well, and hopefully that desire to keep pushing and improving is something we see play out across this season and beyond.

Right, that’s it. If you’re looking for some midweek listening, we’ve launched a new podcast for Patreon members called ‘The 30’, in which Phil Costa and I recap the Premier League week in 30 minutes (more or less). You can check out the first episode here, and get instant access to everything else we do on Patreon.

Till tomorrow.

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