Coinciding with his 20th birthday today, Norwegian newspaper VG have a long background story on Martin Ødegaard and the frantic few weeks around Christmas and New Year in 2014 when almost every big club in the world was chasing the then 15-year-old talent. Using their access to the Football Leaks documents, VG journalists Trond Johannessen and Anders K. Christiansen tells a brilliant story revealing some of the manoeuvres and tactics used by these clubs as they tried to convince the humble Norwegian teenager to join them.
Manchester City was one of the clubs going all out to secure Ødegaard’s signature and part of their plan was to use both City’s close relationship to Celtic and their then manager Ronny Deila – Ødegaard’s coach at Strømsgodset – to seal the deal. If they had been successful, Martin Ødegaard could have joined Celtic on an 18 month loan as early as the January 2015 transfer window.
In an internal email seen by VG, Manchester City executive Brian Marwood wrote* ‘We’re attempting to get this boy everybody in football is talking about now. All the top clubs in Europe have had him on a visit, and most of them want him’.
In preparation for their meeting with Ødegaard and his representatives on the 28th December 2014 the club wanted to position him as their long-term replacement for David Silva, as seen in the email: ‘… the importance of the #10 currently Silva and why we think Martin can be our next one, support with 5min video of MO/Silva comparison’.
At the meeting, due to be attended by manager Manuel Pellegrini, the club where to present three possible short to medium-term options to Ødegaard if he joined City:
- Stay at Strømsgodset for the 2015 season and then in January 2016, at 17 years old, return to City to be given an opportunity to fight for his place in the first-team. The next summer (2016) he would either stay or be sent out to one of the clubs City has a close working relationship with – Celtic, PSV, Lille and Anderlecht all being mentioned.
- Stay at Strømsgodset until summer 2015, then come to City and try to break into the first team. Summer 2016 he would either stay at City or be loaned out to one of the same four clubs mentioned in the first alternative.
- Go on an 18 month loan to one of City’s ‘co-operation’ clubs in January 2015 and then return to Manchester in the summer of 2016.
That the Celtic connection was viewed as a potentially big asset for City in convincing Ødegaard to join is seen clearly in the email: the club wanted Ronny Deila to be part of the meeting with Ødegaard on the 28th December stating* that Deila ‘is a coach that MCFC, Martin and Hans Erik (Ødegaard’s dad) trust’.
If Manchester City had been successful in their capture of Ødegaard, Celtic Park could have been the stage for his first competitive league game outside of Norway, at the age of only 15.
Martin Ødegaard chose Real Madrid instead and despite many voices already proclaiming him a failure, he’s quietly becoming a more mature and accomplished player in the Eredivise through regular first team football, having a very good season so far at Vitesse Arnheim. That he only turns 20 today is a reminder of how much of his career is still ahead of him, having already amassed 14 caps for Norway as a teenager.
Is the Celtic connection completely lost? Real Madrid will once again reassess their options with Ødegaard at the end of this season and it’ll be a highly interesting transfer window in that regard, his contract with Madrid apparently extended to 2021.
Liverpool was one of the clubs interested in Ødegaard in 2014, with then manager Brendan Rodgers coaching him through the training sessions he had with the club. Kristoffer Ajer, who Ødegaard know very well from various Norwegian national teams on youth level and now the senior side, has been singing Rodgers praises in the Norwegian media when it comes to his coaching ability and development of young players.
Ajer’s agent, Tore Pedersen, worked on the deal that brought Ødegaard to Madrid and while he underlines in the VG article that he has never been Ødegaard’s agent, he also says that he has a very good relationship with him and will always help him out if asked.
At 20, Martin Ødegaard is no longer the hottest property in world football, but he might well be a much better signing.
*email quotes have been translated back to English from Norwegian