Martin Odegaard is leading Arsenal’s unexpected charge towards the Premier League title as the Norway midfielder finally fulfils the potential he showed as a teenage wonderkid.
When table-toppers Arsenal host Manchester United on Sunday, Odegaard will be centre stage in the kind of glamour fixture that was supposed to be his birthright.
Hailed as the most gifted teenager of his generation, Odegaard made his senior debut for Stromsgodset in 2014 at the age of 15 and became Norway’s youngest-ever player later that year.
He chose Spanish giants Real Madrid from a host of suitors in 2015 and became the youngest player in the club’s history, aged 16 years and 157 days.
But he struggled to live up to the hype in the unforgiving Madrid glare and was sent out on loan a number of times.
Those spells in relative obscurity at Heerenveen, Vitesse Arnhem and Real Sociedad suggested Odegaard might not fulfil his early promise but he was thrust back into the spotlight when Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta took him on loan for the second half of the 2020/21 season.
Even then, Real's decision to sell him to the Gunners for about £30 million ($37 million) in 2021 was interpreted as evidence he would not make the grade at the highest level.
But with his career in need of a major reset, Odegaard has seized his chance in the Premier League.
Handed the Arsenal captaincy by Arteta before this season, Odegaard has rewarded his manager's faith, emerging as one of the central figures in their surge to the top of the Premier League.
The 24-year-old has already scored eight goals and provided five assists in 17 league games this season.
To put Odegaard's breakthrough campaign into perspective, he finished last season with seven goals and four assists in the league.