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FOOTBALL

Norway prodigy closes in on Madrid deal: report

Football prodigy Martin Ødegaard, one of the most hunted players in Europe's winter transfer market, is set for a move to Real Madrid, according to a Norwegian press report.

Norway prodigy closes in on Madrid deal: report
Photo: Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix

The 16-year-old has been linked to nearly every major club between Manchester and Real Madrid in recent weeks, with reports now suggesting the European champions are close to securing his services. 

Ødegaard landed in Madrid late on Tuesday with his father and agent to hammer out a deal, and the club have already printed up a number 16 shirt in preparation for the transfer of the talented Norwegian, newspaper VG reports

"There's been a lot of noise surrounding Martin and we decided to not contribute to it by refusing to feed the rumours," his father Hans Erik Ødegaard, himself a former professional, told AFP.

"The only thing that matters is that he can develop as a footballer," the father added.

Ødegaard, already a Norwegian international, fuelled speculation about a move from his hometown club of Strømsgodset by going on a grand tour of Europe's football giants in England, Germany and Spain around his 16th birthday on December 16th.

While the professed Liverpool fan trained at and carefully inspected facilities, press reports had him linked one day with Ajax Amsterdam and the next to Real Madrid in a €12 million ($14.3 million) deal.

He could also plump for Bayern Munich, whose president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has named him "the talent of the century."

Like Barcelona forward Neymar, another former wonderkid, the Scandinavian is spoiled for choice. "He has a future wherever he goes," said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique.

The Catalan club would like Ødegaard but they are banned from signing players until January 2016 after breaching rules on signing under 18s.

More than 30 clubs have expressed an interest: Manchester United and City, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund are also on the list. But English Premier League leaders Chelsea are not among them.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he would not get involved in an "auction" for the teen.

"I have heard from him and he can go to 25 clubs. I want to know what club it is going to be, but we will not go into battle with all these clubs."

Records smashed  

It has been less than a year since the left-footed Ødegaard's talent first came to light.

In April 2014, he started playing for Strømsgodset, in his home town of Drammen, where he became the youngest player and scorer in the Norwegian Premier League. In 23 games he has five goals and seven assists under his belt.

Videos of the young player running rings around opponents have gone viral and soon came to the attention of Norway's national team.

In August, Ødegaard wore Norway's red and blue shirt for the first time in a friendly against United Arab Emirates, aged just 15 years and 253 days, a national record.

In October, he became the youngest player ever to appear in a European Championship qualifier, coming on as a substitute in a match against Bulgaria.

"He has developed enormously in a short time. He brought down barriers that I think neither he nor anyone else imagined would fall," Norway manager Per-Mathias Høgmo told the Aftenposten daily.

"His way of playing, his talent, his ability to make choices and think, all of this is impressive," he added.

However, even though the appeal of joining a Champions League club may seem irresistible, some are recommending Ødegaard, technically still under contract with Strømgodset for the 2015 season, wait to gain more playing time and even more centimetres in height.

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SPORT

Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”

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