This attacking midfielder`s natural talent and exquisite technique on the ball make the difficult things in the game look easy.
Having scouted for Celtic FC for the past few months have seen this website not being updated for a while.
On 12th of May I travelled to Kristiansand to watch local side Jerv vs Strømsgodset Reserves. For me this match highlighted all aspects of the repertoire the 15 year old possesses. Regardless of the low level of third tier football in Norway, matches like this tells you how it is possible for a player so young to make the grades at the highest level in Norway.
The pitch in general looked good, natural grass, which is becoming more unusual nowadays. The heavy rain made the ball difficult to handle for most players: except the young wizard. The balled seemed to be glued to his feet allowing him to get more time on the ball. He soon was the architect early on setting up the striker who blasted it well over the goal. It was a typical Ødegaard-pass who found the striker with a clever and precise through pass.
Martin Ødegaard started the match playing in the role where he can flourish the most in my opinion. Playing behind the striker in their 4-3-3 formation. The formation and style of play is identical to the first team, which has its natural strengths but also obvious weaknesses. Ødegaard – who was operating in a relatively free role high up the field – soon gave indication that the visitors weren’t going to sit back and defend.
The home side had clearly seen his debut for the first team a few days earlier. They seem to be aware of the threat he posed with his quick feet and great technique. They hardly committed any challenges on him high up the field as they rather tended to fall back into position. The defense bided their time and waited for the right moment, then got onto him when he stormed forward. When Ødegaard eventually came within shooting range they had 2-3 defenders at him, using their muscles to outmaneuver the 15-year old. They succeeded more often than not, leaving the teenager frustrated by the lack of runs taken by his teammates.
The performance of Ødegaard in the first opening minutes indicated that we are dealing with a player who is more comfortable with high intensity rather than slow tempo. Defenders allowing him time on the ball made him think once or twice about his next move. At the highest level he just gets on with the game, just doing what feels natural to him. How good of a quality isn’t that to have as a player; the bigger occasion the greater you perform.
An ordinary fan would have been worried about his ball losses high up the field, but one needs to look at it from a different perspective. The system Strømsgodset play relies on their full backs and wingers to contribute in forward play. I thought the team lacked in fitness on the night. They seemed exhausted after working hard in defense and their hesitance of changing their style of play cost them a lot in the first half.
The strength of having your reserve-team playing similar to the first team is that you get players who knows your game plan fully. But what happens when your players aren’t comfortable on the ball, and with a possession style of play? For Ødegaard the football at Strømsgodset suits him perfectly. For his teammates this match was a nightmare. Time after time they started building play from the back and nearly every time the home side won the ball high up the field creating tons of chances. This constant hesitation, to stick to their possession football no matter what, soon proved to be costly as the home side took the lead.
Ødegaard helped out his defense although he struggled in close battles with the more muscular opponents. I didn’t feel he tried to avoid confrontation, but he tried to play the ball quickly before receiving it again in more spacious areas. Playing on the strengths he has is something he manages to the full, although he relied on his ball control a bit to much seeing him loosing the ball in defensive areas. Once he does such errors he doesn’t seem affected by it. He will not hesitate to do the same maneuver again only to prove his opponent that he learns from mistakes in no time. At this level he gets away with it.
For the home side they clearly had done their lesson regarding Ødegaard, putting pressure on the youngster with timely precision. If Ødegaard was able to turn around to take on the defender, they quickly felled back into their defensive positions. A team concentrating on one player will open up space for others, which it did. But that was the problem on the night; none of Ødegaard teammates were willing to exploit the rooms given away.
So at half time there were no one at the stadium mentioning Martin Ødegaard. Most people didn’t know what all the fuzz was all about with the teenager. In the first half he showed evidence of technique and great ball control. But in in the final third his team hardly created anything.
The second half started out in a more positive way for the visitors. The home side seemed disappointed with themselves, as they should have killed the game off in the first half. Up front Ødegaard faced similar problems as he did in the first half. He was looking for the creative pass to open up the defense, but without any runners his magician skills were useless. Or were they? When receiving the ball outside the box he fired a powerful left footed shot straight into the corner. The goalkeeper had no chance and their defense couldn’t believe what just happened. It was a moment of pure class where he took matters into his own hands.
Jerv won 4-1 in the end and I remember telling my brother that I was a bit disappointed with Martin Ødegaard’s display. I had spoken highly about the youngster for quite some time and he didn’t deliver a man of the match performance. My brother replied: “but he scored a fantastic goal” and he was correct.
Being the goalscorer himself or the top assist maker is the essence in Martin Ødegaard’s game. He is the maestro and architect in offensive play and he creates and scores goals at any level in an impressive way. His quick mind allows him to quickly learn from mistakes such as loosing the ball in tight areas and to avoid psychical battles when avoidable. Learning how to mix his style of play – to learn that easy things are just as useful as his youthful tricks, which he likes to do all over the pitch. Nevertheless, what the player learns by playing as a regular in the Norwegian league is priceless. Performing badly on occasions is part of the game and the way Ødegaard is not letting that happen very often is very impressive.
Would Finland or Estonia have called up Martin Ødegaard to their national team based on his club performances during 2014? Yes, they would. These are both nations who Norway at the moment is competing with in terms of quality. Therefore it was no surprise that the player was included in the squad for the upcoming qualification matches against Malta and Bulgaria. Norway simply couldn’t afford to do such costly mistake, as it would have been by not including him.
The situation with Strømsgodset Reserves reminds me of the situation of the Norwegian national team. The style of play suits Martin Ødegaard, but many of his teammates are not as comfortable with such possession football. The lack of quality upfront is a problem; as the Norwegian team has only managed 1 win in 12 matches.
Pass the ball around is relatively easy if your opponent allows you to. Creating stuff in the final third of the pitch is the tricky part. Players who takes those extra runs and who possess that extra bit of quality at this level is something this nation need. And what happened on 12th of May 2014 when Ødegaard faced the same problem vs Jerv? He took care of business on his own and I don’t see why not a similar scenario could happen in the near future for the national team.
Scouting report written by Øyvind Christoffer Johansen on 10.10.2014