I was wrong – Ødegaard is the right captain
Written by Knut Espen Svegaarden
It has been nearly 15 months since Martin Odegaard, 23, was appointed captain of Norway. Opinions were divided at the time, and I was even a bit skeptical and surprised at Ståle Solbakken’s choice. But his development as a leader certainly went in the right direction.
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A very talented footballer, no doubt. But not everyone is a group leader for this reason. At that time, in March 2021, Martin Odegaard was on loan to Arsenal. In what seemed like an endless string of credits, without a foothold in any club for six years, I thought at the time it was best for Odegaard to focus more on himself – and less on leading others.
Simply to get the best possible conditions to become the best version of “Martin, the super talent of Drammen”.
In Norwegian football, as well as in the national team, the role of the captain and everything involved is not as important as in many other countries, where the captain is wider and the expectations are greater for the player leading the team, and the messages of the fronts.
And at first, the national team management also believed that Odegaard was a somewhat “weak” captain. It took him time to perfect the role, and it was no coincidence that the security of the role came with a permanent move to Arsenal at the end of August last year (£30m).
During the fall of 2021, Odegaard became more and more associated with the team, getting better and better in the Arsenal shirt, which spilled over into the national team. He played himself in that role, the security that a move to the London club gave him, trust and a relationship with coach Mikel Arteta, who saw Odegaard’s qualities better than others.
As Nils Arne Eigen has always said, “Self-confidence is not something you have, it is something you get.”
With the growing confidence in Arsenal came confidence as the captain of the national team. Ødegaard has always been loved by his teammates, coaches and captains in the national team, without a doubt. But there was doubt, also internally, about whether he had the captain’s substance.
I think most people would agree that – today. At that time, in March 2021, I referred to Sander Berg as the natural leader and leader of Norway. I wrote:
“I would have chosen differently. Choosing a captain isn’t the most important thing in the world, but to me Sanderberg looks like a captain. Some players grow in roles, and we’ve seen many examples of players who aren’t thought to be leaders, but who will be with more responsibility. It remains to be seen. What if that would happen here?
Berg’s “choice”, after a while, became comical almost the entire time the player was injured, or stale for other reasons, until the rally in March of this year…
Stefan Strandberg is probably the most defining leader on this team, but Martin Ødegaard has proven, and may continue to develop, a good leader. He has become more confident in the role, faces the national team in a good and reasonable way, thinks about the things he is good at, and always appears as a good representative of Norwegian football.
Ødegaard is the only one to have played all 14 international matches since Ståle Solbakken took over as national team manager 15 months ago. And against Serbia on Thursday, he plays his international number 40, aged only 23.
In the fall, he also plays the Arsenal captain.
So it’s easy to say now, but I do it anyway: Ståle Solbakken did the right thing, even though he wasn’t sure what choice he made along the way, and I was wrong:
Martin Odegaard is the great Norway captain.
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