Thursday, June 20, 2024

Martin Odegaard: The perfect signing

Good morning. I set my alarm for a sensible 7.30am this morning but slept right through it, deep in dreams about climbing trees, taking a ferret for a walk, and employees of a hardware store having great fun spinning around on floor cleaners. Anyway, here we are.

Let’s start with the big news from yesterday and that was the announcement that Martin Odegaard has signed a new deal with the club. It’s not a big surprise, we’ve been telling you this was imminent for a few weeks now, but it’s still fantastic news. It’s a five year deal, taking him to 2028, and he becomes the highest paid player at the club in the process (via The Athletic £).

If there was ever a no-brainer when it comes to a contract renewal this was it. Along with all the others we’ve done in recent times. However, the Norwegian has been such a huge part of this project and the improvement we’ve made, this one is just a little different. As soon as he came on loan, even if he did have some injury problems during that spell, it was obvious how much he raised the technical level of the team. With all due respect to fellow Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos, the difference was night and day.

It’s interesting to think back now about his arrival that January. It came out of the blue, nobody had really mentioned his name at all, and it was, after some iffy deals in the previous windows, the first sign that things were changing from a recruitment point of view. When his loan ended, there was all the usual stuff about how there would no chance of bringing him back, Madrid wanted to keep him, we were interested in James Maddison or Emi Buendia instead, but I wrote on July 21st 2021 about how and why we should go for Odegaard.

Let’s not forget that at that point, we had finished 8th again, there was no European football, the mood was a lot different to now, and we had to do something different with the way we built the squad. That was the summer when Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Odegaard, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga joined. A 66.66666% hit rate on that summer is very good.

Fast forward to now and Martin Odegaard is the captain. When we spoke about Nicolas Pepe in the last few weeks he, ultimately, was the wrong player at the wrong club at the wrong time. Odegaard is exactly the opposite. He is what we needed, and we were what he needed. The perfect player at the perfect time. His talent was never in question, but despite successful loan spells it wasn’t working out at Real Madrid and he needed a place to put down roots and become the footballer every European club knew he could be when he did his tour of all the big clubs (including Arsenal) at 15 years of age.

It’s something he referenced in the interview he did with Clive, saying:

For me it’s been a key thing to find a place where I could really settle down. I’ve felt at home here since the first day; I just felt great. This is definitely my home, I’m so happy to be here and to sign a new deal.

His development as a player has been obvious since his arrival, and so much fun to watch. There are moments when his skill and technicality can take your breath away, but in the next he’s demonstrating how much hard work is important by leading the press or chasing back to do his defensive duties. His goalscoring has improved massively, 15 non-penalty goals in the Premier League last season (more than Ivan Toney, for example), and he already has three to his name this season.

More than anything though, his tactical understanding of the game makes him the manager’s eyes and ears on the pitch. I believe Mikel Arteta sees some of himself in Martin Odegaard, and giving him the responsibility of the captaincy has been a superb decision. He leads by example, with the quality of his performances and his willingness to work for the team, and while he’s willing to let others lead, he’s not afraid to show his seniority too. Last season, when Oleksandr Zinchenko decided to get the team in a huddle after going 2-0 down to Southampton (his intentions were good, if a bit misplaced), it was Odegaard who came over to break it up and tell everyone to get on with actually playing the game.

I know I mention this a lot, but it bears repeating: in a transfer market that has gone absolutely crazy, where kids with barely any experience go for anywhere between £60m and £110m, to have signed Martin Odegaard for £30m is, and will always be, one of football’s great bargains. Not to mention one of the best this club has ever made. And to have secured his future for the next firve, alongside the other top young talent at this club, tells you exactly where we are. He’s 24, an age at which we used to lose our best players, so it’s really exciting to think about what else is to come in the years ahead.

It is in stark comparison to where we were when Odegaard arrived, and as much as I love so many of the guys in this team (especially Ben White!), the skipper is the one who represents so much of what has happened in these last couple of years. Quality, drive, ambition, hard work, and a full understanding of what it is to pull on that shirt and that armband. You couldn’t ask for more.

Except a goal or two in the derby on Sunday, no pressure, Martin.

For more on that game, and for a long discussion about Odegaard, we have a preview podcast for you over on Patreon right now.

Have a great Saturday folks.