Martin Odegaard is back in Norway a decade on from his incredible debut and as skipper of Arsenal 


Some of the finer details have gone fuzzy in the memory of Martin Strange, but even a decade on he can still plot the course of a 2012 friendly and why it mattered to Norwegian side Mjondalen.

‘We beat Stromsgodset 5-2, which at the time was a big deal for us,’ Strange recalls. ‘We were in the second tier and they were local opposition.’

Arch-rivals, in fact. And though some regulars were missing from each side, Stromsgodset were still a top-flight scalp.

‘But of course the headline wasn’t that,’ Strange explains. ‘Most of the attention was regarding a 13-year-old playing for Stroms-godset. Which is understandable.’

Martin Odegaard was a teenage sensation in Norway and made his Stromsgodset at just 13

A decade on the Norwegian will return to Norway for Arsenal's Europa League tie on Thursday

A decade on the Norwegian will return to Norway for Arsenal’s Europa League tie on Thursday 

These days, Strange rents out heavy machinery to entrepreneurs. That June afternoon near Drammen, he was dealing with something rather smaller. But still worth a few bob. ‘We were leading 4-0 at half-time,’ Strange recalls. He was playing left back, and after the break Stromsgodset sent on a new right winger — Martin Odegaard.

It was the 13-year-old’s senior debut, a club record. After just 25 minutes, however, he had created his first goal.

Within three years, Odegaard was en route to Real Madrid. Now, a decade on, the 23-year-old returns to Norway as captain of Arsenal, who face Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League.

‘I remember it well,’ he says of that debut. ‘I was a kid. I feel young today and it’s like 10 years ago now. I was a kid. It was a good time. I was playing football, having fun, I just enjoyed doing what I love.’

A move to Real Madrid followed for Odegaard after his impressive start in Norway as a teen

A move to Real Madrid followed for Odegaard after his impressive start in Norway as a teen 

The midfield playmaker would later move to Real Sociedad on loan from Madrid in La Liga

The midfield playmaker would later move to Real Sociedad on loan from Madrid in La Liga 

‘I didn’t think about it at the time — that it would be a historic event,’ admits Bjorn Petter Ingebretsen, who was then Stromsgodset’s assistant coach. ‘But we got in trouble with the federation after the game — he was too young to play — so that made it a historic event after all!’

Stromsgodset knew they were bending the rules. ‘But we took a chance and got a warning,’ Ingebretsen says. The previous night, Odegaard struggled to sleep after hearing he was allowed to play. His selection was a surprise to Mjondalen, too. But they were well prepared — Odegaard’s father, Hans Erik, was Mjondalen assistant coach and the player had trained with them.

At half-time, Ingebretsen and manager Ronny Deila — later boss of Celtic — gave the 13-year-old his final tips. ‘Just be Martin,’ they told him. ‘And be careful with your legs!’

Yes, it was a friendly. But Mjondalen were a physical side. ‘There was nothing they didn’t try to take the ball off him,’ says Ingebretsen.

The Arsenal skipper has added a new dimension to the side's attack since his move in 2021

The Arsenal skipper has added a new dimension to the side’s attack since his move in 2021 

Martin Odegaard already has 45 caps and two goals for his country and is only 23-years-old

Martin Odegaard already has 45 caps and two goals for his country and is only 23-years-old 

Strange insists he veered the other way. ‘I was kind of careful,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t want to hurt him.’ With good reason. ‘He was only 13 and his dad was the assistant coach. It wasn’t the headline you wanted!’

Fortunately, Odegaard did most of the damage, feeding Peter Kovacs who was fouled inside the area before scoring a penalty. ‘A very good pass,’ the teenager reflected after the game.

Strange adds: ‘He did as he does today, he cut inside and delivered the assist to one of the strikers.’

A member of Mjondalen staff claims the left back tried to offer Odegaard advice on the pitch. Strange can’t remember. ‘He didn’t need instructions,’ he says.

The technical ability, the knack for spotting a pass… it was all there, even then. ‘You can see it today — if the defender runs too hard at Martin,’ Strange says, ‘he just stops the ball, puts the ball inside and you’re out.’

That explains why the left back took a safety-first approach. Well partially. ‘You were also a little afraid of being dribbled past by a 13-year-old,’ he admits. No wonder Mjondalen’s then-captain, Christian Gauseth, is not fussed he missed the game. Even if it cost him a spot in history. ‘No regrets at all,’ he laughs. ‘I’m happy I didn’t have to be embarrassed by a schoolboy.’

Odegaard has taken on the role as Gunners skipper this season leading Arsenal's young side

Odegaard has taken on the role as Gunners skipper this season leading Arsenal’s young side

The midfielder had seen enough in training, when Odegaard would often join after school, and his session at Stromsgodset.

Hans Erik, who had drilled his son each day from the age of five, demanded more from Martin than anyone else. Odegaard’s remarkable work ethic has stuck with those he trained with and under.

‘He had an ability to see what’s around him, and that was just unheard of,’ Gauseth says. ‘At our level, I’m sure it felt to him like everything was moving in slow motion.’

One moment remains imprinted on the midfielder’s psyche. Gauseth pressed the youngster from behind before he received the ball. Odegaard went one way, then the other. ‘I was long gone, getting hotdogs in the stands,’ Gauseth jokes. Hans Erik wanted players to show his son the physical reality of senior games.

‘He got his education in Viking football,’ Gauseth says. ‘Special measures had to be taken to contain Martin, but I don’t think he got any lasting damage. So mission accomplished.’

Odegaard came through his debut unscathed, too. So why didn’t Strange nab his shirt?

Odegaard is enjoying his football at The Emirates and looking forward to returning home

Odegaard is enjoying his football at The Emirates and looking forward to returning home 

‘I should have,’ he says. ‘But I’d probably have got a message from the kitman to deliver it back.

‘I would be sitting on something if I’d asked him… I don’t think he’d value my shirt equally!’

It was nevertheless a rare opportunity. That debut proved a false start to Odegaard’s senior career — after the federation’s warning, the midfielder didn’t play again until after his 15th birthday.

Following that first outing, Odegaard headed home to watch Euro 2012.

This week, he has returned to Norway via the very top of world football. Still, somehow, just 23. And still applying lessons from those early days?

‘He played the ball backwards too much and I wanted him to play more forward passes,’ Ingebretsen says, before finishing with a joke. ‘That’s what I taught him.’

Teen sensation: Odegaard, then 15, playing for Stromsgodset in Norway rex

‘I didn’t want to hurt him… his dad was our assistant!’

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