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Real Madrid sign Norway prodigy Ødegaard

A complete unknown only a year ago, Norwegian prodigy Martin Ødegaard's has signed for Real Madrid, sending his fledgling career soaring towards the summits.

Real Madrid sign Norway prodigy Ødegaard
Martin Ødegaard has already played three times for Norway. Photo: Vegard Wivestad Grøtt/NTB Scanpix

The young midfielder had long been courted by some of Europe's top clubs.

Real, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Liverpool were all, according to press reports, in the race to sign the teenager.

Finally, a deal with the Spanish giants was announced on Thursday, clearing the way for him to join a number of world stars in midfield.

Norwegian press sports suggested the teen would spend the spring playing for Castilla — the club's youth team, coached by former world champion Zinedine Zidane — and join the first team's reputed stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema after the summer.

A dream come true for a boy who just celebrated his 16th birthday on December 17th.

The rapid turn of events will not be unfamiliar to Ødegaard, who already has three international appearances for Norway to his name.

When he joined the first team of Strømsgodset, the club of his native city of Drammen, in April 2014, he became the youngest player to ever play in the Norwegian first division. A month later, he became the league's youngest scorer.

Ødegaard scored five goals and provided seven assists in his 23 games for the club.

His prowess quickly drew attention as videos of the then 15-year-old running circles around his opponents created an online buzz that spread to the Scandinavian sports press.

"Talent of the century" 

He was soon called up to the national team, where he broke new records.

Ødegaard became the youngest Norwegian international in history in August — only 15 years and 253 days old — and later the youngest ever to feature in a European Championship qualifier, in October 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 recently told the Aftenposten daily.

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

His gifts have not gone unnoticed around Europe. Many of the continent's greatest clubs have reportedly been interested in signing the Norwegian.

Press reports linked Ajax Amsterdam with an imminent deal, while others said Bayern was first in line. The German team's president, the legendary Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said Ødegaard was the "talent of the century".

The teenager and his father Hans Erik — himself a former professional — toured several clubs over recent months to visit facilities and meet senior representatives.

Hans Erik's demand was for his son not to spend time with the reserves of a great team, but to train and play with the best.

According to sports media, Zidane played a key role in convincing the Norwegian to start out at Castilla in the Spanish third division before joining the first team.

His future teammates already await his arrival.

"A good player. I think he's a young boy, he can still grow," Ronaldo said of his new teammate.

"He has a good future ahead. So we must give him time to learn, to take the best decisions but I see a lot of potential in that player," he added before picking up his third Ballon d'Or award.

"So we must give him time to learn, to take the best decisions but I see a lot of potential in that player. A good left foot."

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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