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How Cristiano Ronaldo carjacked Arsenal's first transfer for Martin Odegaard

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ARSENAL’S first bid to sign Martin Odegaard was CARJACKED by Cristiano Ronaldo.

But unlike Manchester United, the Gunners did not let Odegaard slip through their fingers a second time.

Martin Odegaard had a warm welcome from Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid - and later replaced him to make his Real debut

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Martin Odegaard had a warm welcome from Cristiano Ronaldo in Madrid – and later replaced him to make his Real debutCredit: AFP
Martin Odegaard found his way back to Arsenal in the end and is now leading their title bid

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Martin Odegaard found his way back to Arsenal in the end and is now leading their title bidCredit: Getty

And now the former wonderkid is the Arsenal captain trying to lead them to their first title for 20 years.

Ex-Gunners midfielder Steve Morrow was the club’s head of youth recruitment under legendary boss Arsene Wenger when they battled the biggest names in Europe to sign the teenage sensation.

And in December 2014, when 15 year old Odegaard came to train at London Colney, Arsenal were feeling confident.

Morrow said: “I had a good relationship with Martin’s dad and by the time they came to Arsenal, he told me it was between us and one other club.

“He didn’t tell me but I knew it was Real Madrid.

“Martin trained with some first-team players and Arsene was pretty blown away by his technical ability.”

Wenger, Morrow, chief executive Ivan Gazidis, transfer chief Dick Law, Odegaard and his dad Hans Erik then went out for dinner.

Odegaard told The Players’ Tribune it was “cool but strange” to meet Wenger, recalling: “I was so nervous I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Is he analysing me right now?

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“‘Is he going to judge me if I eat the fries? Maybe I should just leave them.’ Hahaha!”

Morrow said: “It was a really positive vibe. 

Fans say Martin Odegaard ‘winning on and off the pitch’ as stunning Wag dances in stands as Arsenal batter Chelsea

“Martin was humble, quite quiet and shy, but a mature kid as well who knew what he wanted and was able to articulate that to Arsene. 

“Dad called me the next morning and said he thought it went very well. 

“It later became known that they went straight to Real Madrid. 

“They sent a private jet for them and what I heard at the time was that Cristiano Ronaldo was in the car which met them at the airport.

“Martin had a bit of a whirlwind tour of the training ground and met certain people, including Zinedine Zidane

“You don’t blame a 15 year old for being impressed by that.

“Shortly after that he made a decision to go there, which I was very surprised and disappointed about.”

Manchester United were actually the first English club that Odegaard visited, in 2013, but decided to wait before going for the hard sell.

By the time United realised just how good the youngster was, Arsenal and everyone else were in the race.

Morrow remembers the lightning bolt moment of watching Odegaard, then barely 15, play for Norway in an Under-16 tournament in Portugal in February 2014.

Martin Odegaard: “A lazy little b***er with great technique…”

“A LAZY little b***er with great technique… that was one scout’s first impression of now-Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard.

Former Millwall goalkeeper Bryan King spent more than 20 years looking for talent in Norway and Scandinavia for English clubs.

And he was represesnting Everton when he found himself at an unlikely venue watching Odegaard, then still in his early teens.

King told SunSport: “We were in a place called Raufoss, a decent drive north of Oslo, to watch a youth game between the south of Norway and the north of Norway.

“I was there with Kjetil Osvold, who had played for Brian Clough and was working for Ajax, and Bjorn Andersson, an ex Bayern Munich player who was part of their set-up.

“It was a morning kick-off. It was cold and there was snow on the ground, and they were playing indoors.

“When the game finished, the three of us were of the opinion that Odegaard was a lazy little b****r, but with great technique.

“His ability to see the pass was quite uncanny for such a young player. We thought clubs would be looking at him.”

It was not long before Everton and others found themselves crowded out in the race to sign Odegaard.

King, now 77, added: “As he progressed with the national team, the list of clubs interested grew and grew.

“I spoke to his father and it was one of those situations where one club came out and another went in.

“Meanwhile he had signed with Stromsgodset and made his debut at the age of 15. He grew out of his laziness and became a player who was influential in games even at a young age.

“The moment Real Madrid became interested, the money changed. There was no chance that we were going to be able to compete.”

Morrow said: “I got so excited watching him in the first half. 

“He was so small compared to the other players, but right from the first few touches, I could see his technical ability.

“As soon as I got back, I jumped into Arsene’s office and told him: ‘He’s the best 15 year old that I’ve ever seen.’”

Less than two months after that game in Portugal, Odegaard made his competitive debut for Stromsgodset at the age of 15 years and 118 days – the youngest player in Norwegian top-flight history.

In August 2014, he took his senior bow for Norway in a friendly against the UAE when still more than 100 days short of his 16th birthday.

In the latter months of 2014, all the big clubs in Europe were jostling for position, with Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City and United fancying their chances.

United sent manager Louis van Gaal to Oslo to meet Odegaard.

But according to Van Gaal, the young star and his dad were determined that he would train with United’s first team immediately or there could be no deal.

They sent a private jet for them and what I heard at the time was that Cristiano Ronaldo was in the car which met them at the airport.

Steve Morrow

United and neighbours City both felt unable to promise that.

But Morrow and Arsenal worked hard to convince the Odegaards that they could.

Morrow, who made two trips to Oslo to set out the Gunners’ case, said: “We assured him by showing him examples of players like Cesc Fabregas, who had come into Arsenal and trained with the first team immediately at 16 or 17 and had a path into the first team. 

“During his visit, Arsene sat him down and told him that he would have first-team opportunities as soon as he walked in the door and the rest was up to him.”

Odegaard says he came “very close” to joining Arsenal. But Madrid laid on a Real show to turn his head.

As well as meeting Ronaldo and training with him and other star names, the youngster was introduced to Zidane, then the boss of Madrid’s B team.

And in 2020, another aspect of the package that took Odegaard to Madrid emerged.

Former Gunners midfielder Steve Morrow went on to be youth recruitment chief, bringing through players like Bukayo Saka

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Former Gunners midfielder Steve Morrow went on to be youth recruitment chief, bringing through players like Bukayo SakaCredit: Getty

Football Leaks documents revealed that Real agreed a three-and-a-half-year deal for Odegaard’s dad to coach the club’s Under-11 team, which included a signing-on bonus of more than £2.5m on top of an annual salary of £85,000.

Odegaard Jnr became Real’s youngest debutant at 16 years and 157 days old when he came on for Ronaldo against Getafe in May 2015.

But he had to wait until November 2016 for his first start as what seemed like a dream move took a different turn.

Morrow, who now works with Fifa chief Wenger as a talent development specialist, said: “In hindsight, I don’t know if it was the best development opportunity for Martin. 

“The first couple of years were difficult and then he went on loan, and everyone knows the story from there.”

After spells in Holland with Heerenveen and Vitesse Arnhem, Odegaard returned to Spain for a temporary move to Real Sociedad.

The fourth loan spell of his Real career took him to Arsenal for the second half of the 2020-21 season. He joined permanently for £30m that summer and became Mikel Arteta’s captain the following year.

Wenger reflected in a recent interview with former Gunners midfielder Freddie Ljungberg that all’s well that ends well.

Wenger said: “I met him [Odegaard] last season and said: ‘See? Now we are where we should have been then.’

“He answered me: ‘You’re right!’”

Odegaard said: “I can only thank Madrid for investing in a 16-year-old kid. 

“Everybody had good intentions and I don’t blame anyone, but I needed to find a place where I could settle. I needed to find an actual home. 

“I found it in North London.”

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