All eyes on new football darling

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As Norway’s national football team underwent its latest generation shift this week, the media was captivated by its new youngest member ever. Martin Ødegaard, just 15 years old, seemed mature beyond his age, though, as he patiently answered questions and seemed entirely void of youthful bravado.

Martin Ødegaard, age 15, in his new national football team jersey. PHOTO: Norges Fotballforbund

Martin Ødegaard, age 15, in his new national football team jersey. PHOTO: Norges Fotballforbund

Many teenagers selected to play on their country’s national team might resort to boasting, but Ødegaard was a master of Norwegian modesty as he faced the glare of cameras and reporters. He repeated how his selection to play in Norway’s upcoming match against the United Arab Emirates later this month in Stavanger was “a dream come true.”

He said he was surprised that the team’s relatively new coach, Per-Mathias Høgmo, had selected him, even though he’s already stirred up a sensation this year through his remarkable play for Strømsgodset in his hometown of Drammen. He was the youngest to ever play in Norway’s top league (Tippeligaen) when he debuted in April and the youngest to score, when Strømsgodset beat Sarpsborg o8 in May.

“This is all incredibly huge and fun,” Ødegaard told Norwegian reporters who surrounded him in Oslo on Tuesday. “This is something I’ve dreamed about since I was really little.”

Høgmo told the website for the national football federation fotball.no that he chose Ødegaard for a spot on the national squad because “he’s made such good presentations in several matches in Tippeligaen. I wanted to see him on the A-team. I saw before the season started that he’d be the comet of the year in the league, and that he could become the youngest player ever on the national team. I’m not surprised that he’s convinced (everyone of his talent). Now I just look forward to see him in action, and how he’ll perform on the national team.”

Høgmo also thought the match against the Emirates would be a good challenge. “They’ve shown good results and this will be a fine test for our team,” he said.

Just started high school
Ødegaard, born on December 17, 1998, just started high school this week and isn’t even old enough to drive a car in Norway. He has no agent and his father Hans-Erik, himself a former Strømsgodset player, handles the logistics around his son’s budding football career. Martin Ødegaard said he feels “good and secure” playing for Strømsgodset.

He’s fully aware that “the world out there” has discovered his talent, and a video of him playing football posted on YouTube by CMore (external link, audio in Norwegian) has attracted more than a million viewings. Ødegaard himself also studies videos of top players in action. “Lionel Messi is, to me, the world’s best player and I’ve studied many of his moves,” Ødegaard told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday.

The young player simply loves playing football, and with a football outside of formal training sessions. “I have to go down to the field and train a bit on my own almost every day,” he said. “And all the training is with a ball. That’s how I’ve developed both basic skills and orientation skills.”

Ødegaard is making his national team debut at a younger age than any of the superstars. Newspaper Aftenposten reported, for example, that Lionel Messi himself was 18 when he first played for Argentina, Wayne Rooney was 17 when he debuted for England and Christiano Ronaldo was 18 when he first played for Portugal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden was 19 years, three months and 28 days, to be exact, while Thomas Müller of Germany was 20.

Meanwhile, a captain ‘retires’
While Ødegaard looked forward to playing for Norway, a longtime “pillar” of the team, Brede Hangeland, confirmed he was leaving the team at an age of 33. Hangeland, who currently plays for Crystal Palace in England, admitted it was a tough decision but he wants to devote 100 percent of his time and attention to his English team.

“I’m very proud and grateful to have been able to represent Norway on so many occasions,” said Hangeland, who became captain of the team in 2008 when it was still coached by Åge Hareide. Current coach Høgmo said he respected Hangeland’s decision, while Rune Bratseth, another former captain, said it was a “great loss” for the team that Høgmo is in the process of rebuilding.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund