Real Madrid must give Martin Odegaard time to develop - Jan Aage Fjortoft
Former Norway international and Premier League star Jan Aage Fjortoft has told ESPN FC that there is no need to worry about the progress of Real Madrid starlet Martin Odegaard -- with the 19-year-old playmaker set to go on loan again for the 2018-19 campaign.
Odegaard was just 16 when Madrid beat off competition from some of Europe's richest clubs to sign him in January 2015, and a few months later became the Spanish side's youngest ever player when he replaced Cristiano Ronaldo during a La Liga game against Getafe.
But Odegaard played only a peripheral role during the club's International Champions Cup campaign in the U.S. this summer, and is not among those Madrid players expected to step up and fill the gap left by Ronaldo after the Portuguese superstar left for Juventus.
Bu Fjortoft, who knows Odegaard well having worked closely with him inside the Norway national team set-up, insisted he just needs time.
"Martin has developed as young kids do," he told ESPN FC. "Some games good, some games very good, and sometimes he has floated out the game.
"But that is normal when a kid goes into senior football. Some adapt quickly, others more slowly. Remember that Martin Odegaard was a senior player from a very young age. Most players are not moving to Real Madrid so young. These things take time, this is the toughest industry in the world. We cannot say how his career will go, just as with any other 19 year old football talent. People forget he is still so young."
With Madrid's Castilla youth side remaining stuck down in Spanish football's semi-professional third tier, Odegaard went on loan to Dutch side Heerenveen in January 2017. That brought more regular senior football, three goals and five assists in 37 starts last season, along with attention for some eye-catching individual skills.
"Every player needs to play football, to be playing regularly," Fjortoft, now a pundit with Viasat, said. "And like a lot of young players before him, you need to get to the senior level. So I think the loan to Dutch football was a good one."
Odegaard already has 12 senior international caps with Norway, mostly in friendlies. Five goals in 14 competitive appearances for his country's Under-21 side, including a goal and assist in 3-1 win over Germany last October, have kept excitement high in his home country.
"I won't use words like superstar, as the only superstars in the world are [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi," Fjortoft added. "But Martin is a very talented young player, and in Norway we follow him closely. He is a 19-year-old who has spent the last weeks on the road with Real Madrid [at the ICC]. Not a lot of 19-year-olds are doing that. If a 19-year-old moves abroad from Norway, it is sensational."
At the time, former Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti called Odegaard's signing a "public relations exercise" by club president Florentino Perez. However Fjortoft says there were concrete reasons why the teenager chose the Bernabeu, when Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool and Ajax were other clubs reported to be chasing him.
"One of the main reasons for joining Real Madrid was that they had a second team where the coach was Zinedine Zidane," he said. "For a young kid you cannot get a better teacher than Zidane. You can say the same about the young kids going to Manchester City. But at the end of the day it is all about playing games."
A metatarsal injury last April cut short Odegaard's loan spell in the Netherlands, and other Madrid youngsters including Uruguay senior international Fede Valverde, 19, and €45 million Brazilian Vinicius Junior, 18, were given more prominent roles through preseason by Zidane's replacement Julen Lopetegui. So another loan move, perhaps within La Liga this time, is now almost certain.
"I don't know what will happen for next season" Fjortoft said. "At the moment he is with Real Madrid and they have to make a decision. I speak to Martin but what we say stays between us. It will have to be evaluated after preseason."
Fjortoft himself was 22 when he left Norway to join Austrian side Rapid Vienna in 1989 before later representing English clubs Swindon Town, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Barnsley.
"Some players are magnificent when they are 16, like Wayne Rooney," he said. "But there are others, like Harry Kane, who was sitting on the bench a few years ago. Every football player, every talent, takes their own time. To be fair to Martin he deserves our patience as well.
"He is a very realistic and knows this industry, and he is working very hard to achieve his goals. He has the perfect attitude, his personality and character is spot on. That is why he came so far from a young age and has managed to do the things he has done. If he is not worried, then the rest of us should not be worried about it."