Real Madrid: Destroying the myth that Zinedine Zidane dislikes Martin Odegaard

Real Madrid, Martin Odegaard (Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Martin Odegaard (Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

About a month ago, we used data to deconstruct the myth that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane does not give young players enough opportunities. The situations of Martin Odegaard and Luka Jovic, who both left the club on loan in the winter, likely led to the narrative that Zidane has something against younger players.

And it is the narrative around Odegaard that has been the most forceful. Zidane’s critics – surprisingly, there are some – often point to Odegaard’s lack of usage as some sort of damnation of Zidane’s managing prowess. More perplexingly, there is this baseless notion that Zidane had something against Odegaard, which is why the Norwegian played so little in LaLiga.

Let’s look at the facts. Zidane was the one who called and said he wanted Odegaard in his squad instead of another loan at La Real. That’s your first clue that Zizou values the young attacking midfielder.

But Odegaard ended up playing just 233 minutes in LaLiga for Real Madrid before asking for a loan to Arsenal. He actually made more appearances off the bench than starts for Los Blancos. Thus, you can see why a talented, passionate 22-year-old footballer wanted a new situation. He wanted to play.

So why didn’t Zidane let him play?

It’s complicated. But the reason goes beyond dislike or not properly valuing Odegaard’s talent. The reason is that Zidane is a very cautious player who treats young stars with a lot of hype with the utmost care.

Zinedine Zidane may have been protecting Martin Odegaard

Odegaard was amazing for most of the 2019-2020 season. But in the second half of the season, Odegaard was slowed by a knee injury. The kind of injury that slows players down and can derail a promising career if not managed properly.

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So Odegaard came into the 2020-2021 season with Real Madrid with lingering effects. You could tell that even though he showed the same vision and initiative, he wasn’t quite at his best in the first half of the campaign when he was on the pitch. Odegaard was barely making a dent on the ball with his dribbling.

Zidane didn’t want Odegaard to make the injury worse. He has always been cautious with injuries to developing players. And he also didn’t want any stiffness from the injury affecting Odegaard’s play to then lead to overblown criticism from the press – you know, the same criticism the three-peat Champions League-winning manager receives on a daily basis despite all he’s done.

Beyond that, it was hard for Odegaard to break into the lineup. The 4-3-3 system is locked in for this club, unless if there is a rash of injuries. At the time, there was nothing unmanageable for Zidane. Most importantly, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were playing world-class football, particularly Modric on that right side that Odegaard might favor. And Fede Valverde was also scoring goals and playing great football in midfield.

At Real Madrid, complicated situations like this can happen

Where was Odegaard going to play? Zidane couldn’t bench Modric. He couldn’t afford to! The same goes for Kroos. And Valverde needs the minutes, too. Real Madrid aren’t running a charity. They can’t just give minutes to players they want to develop. Those minutes need to be earned. Odegaard had done enough to earn some minutes but not enough to be ahead of Modric, Kroos, or even Valverde. Add in the worries about pressure and health, and you can start to understand why Odegaard couldn’t get the playing time he wanted.

It was a frustrating situation for Odegaard, and I’m sure it wasn’t ideal for Zidane. But when he realized the stakes, he couldn’t risk thrusting too much onto Odegaard or risk dropping points in LaLiga by taking Modric off the pitch.

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Let’s get rid of the silly notion that Zidane has anything against Odegaard. And Odegaard shouldn’t have anything against Zizou. Football is a tricky business, especially at a club with Real’s expectations. Zizou did the best he could in this situation. Could he have done more to reach out and accommodate Odegaard? Maybe, but we’ll never know without actually being behind those closed doors. What we can say, though, is that there are logical reasons behind the decisions the manager made, and it is a step too far to say that he has anything against the talented playmaker.