Meet Martin Ødegaard. The 15-year-old Norwegian could be soccer’s next big thing … or he could be just another teenager with an amazing set of YouTube highlights who never amounts to much and a decade later finds himself playing in front of roughly 200 people in Serbia. For the purposes of the next 500-odd words (and GIFs!) let’s optimistically assume the former.
Tuesday Ødegaard received his first call-up from the Norway National Team at the senior level. At 15 years and 263 days he’d be the youngest player to ever appear for Norway when it takes on the United Arab Emirates next week. Reportedly all the big clubs — Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, etc. — have scouted Ødegaard, who plays for Stromsgodset in the Tippeligaen. His aforementioned YouTube highlights have already tallied over one million views since July 29 and we can guess watching said clip translates into “scouting” circa 2014.
Thanks to a little inside information, I can exclusively confirm that all international soccer scouting reports now include a “GIF-ability” rating. As you can see, Ødegaard gets a 10 out of 10 in that department. In the digital age what’s more valuable to a club? A tireless worker, tracking across the field, intercepting passes and winning balls or a guy who can produce a Vine worthy of seven-digit loops?
Even a dribbler like Neymar would be impressed by this kind of close control and skill, right? The sky is the limit!
Here’s the part where we douse some cold water on Ødegaard, scorer of three goals in 14 league games for Stromsgodset.
It’s one thing to dribble around defenders in the Norwegian league, putting on a show on artificial turf in the 27th-best rated league in Europe. There is certainly a high-level of skill involved, although it’s hard to say how that would transfer to the rigors of a top league against seasoned pros. Just a hunch but guys like Javier Mascherano aren’t going to take too kindly to a 15-year-old trying to make them look silly.
That said, Transfermarkt only rates Ødegaard at around $2 million. A mega-club could easily take a flier on him and drop him into their youth team or loan him out, thinking long-term.
And speaking of big picture, it’ll be curious to watch as more-and-more young soccer players across the globe come up, like Ødegaard, trying to emulate the game of Lionel Messi. Yes, Messi is a once in a lifetime type talent — few players are going to be able to completely dominate at only 5-foot-7 — with mad, darting runs through a ticket of defenders toward the goal, among his vast assortment of tricks and skills. The Argentine isn’t simply a highlight-reel dribbler, either, scoring 243 times in 277 games, helping Barcelona win every trophy on the face of the planet.
Messi’s influence on the next generation can’t be understated, either.
Take Ødegaard, born in 1998. He was six years old when Messi made his Barcelona senior team debut. Theoretically he’s been able to watch Messi — and Messi highlights on YouTube — his entire soccer life. Watching the Norwegian’s style, it’s hard not to think of Messi. Of course, turning that style from a YouTube highlight clip when you’re a teenager to winning the Ballon d’Or as an adult is another matter entirely.