He scores. He creates. He presses. He shoves teammates over to the away end to receive their ovations and hear their names chanted and sung to the heavens. Our captain, Martin Ødegaard, might soon wrest the title of “best Prem midfielder” away from the injured and ageing Kevin De Bruyne. He came away from the Bournemouth match with a goal, an assist, a penalty won, and 55.3% of the MOTM votes in our post-match poll. Not too shabby. Somehow, incredibly, considering how good he really is, there’s a sense that he’s only going to continue to get better. Just how did we hoodwink Real Madrid into selling him for just £35m?
After a breakout 2022-23 season in which he scored 15 goals, added eight assists, and led all midfielders in successful presses in the attacking third. He’s everywhere all at once. He’s off the mark six matches with three goals and an assist even as we’re still trying to find some form and fluidity with numerous changes to the squad due to transfers and injuries. Should he continue to develop at this rate, there really shouldn’t any question as to who the best midfielder in the Prem is. Should he continue, he has a chance at being the best playmaker we’ve had since Bergkamp.
When he’s not scoring or creating or pressing, he’s leading. After the League Cup win over Brentford, he ushered 19 year old Charles Sagoe, Jr. over to the away end for an ovation. He did the same for Kai Havertz after this weekend’s win over Bournemouth. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, after having been brought down in the box, he decided to let Havertz take the pen. We don’t seem to have one player designated to take penalties, but Ødegaard had previously converted the pen earned by Nketiah. Between that and his captaincy, letting Havertz have it would be some genuine leadership.
Having put pen to paper on a new contract back in May, Ødegaard will be here until 2028. At the time, the Norwegian said that he had “found a football family—not just the teammates and the incredible coaching staff, but everyone who makes the club and the local community what it is…I feel like I belong here. Et sted jeg hører hjemme.” Now, even as we admit that PR firms and players work hard to craft poignant, compelling homages to the clubs that pay the wages and bonuses and fees, there’s just enough in Ødegaard’s personality to make those words ring a bit truer.
Would Ødegaard renew his contract in 2028? He’d be 29 and possibly looking at his last long-term contract. A lot can happen between in these next five years. Will he have led us to a Prem title? Champions League glory, at long last? It feels like the sky is the limit, and there may even be an opening to exploit should Guardiola or Klopp get bored and move on and if Man U and Chelsea continue to sputter. Whatever happens at those clubs and others, however, it has to feel like our own squad, epitomised by Ødegaard, is smelling itself, to borrow my students’ idiom—as in just now getting a sense of what they’re capable, plumbing the depths of their potential, believing that that they can build on last season’s exhiliration and learn from its disappointment.
It’s anyone’s guess how far Ødegaard’s ever-expanding skillset and leadership skills will take him and this club. Something tells me he’ll be a large part of the ongoing renaissance at this club, leading to just a few pieces of silverware more-signficant than the 2023 Community Shield.