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Martin Odegaard is back in Norway a decade after his incredible debut and as Arsenal skipper

Some of the finer details are blurred in Martin Strange’s memory, but even a decade later he can still chronicle the course of a 2012 friendly and why it was important for Norwegian club Mjondalen.

“We beat Stromsgodset 5-2, which was a big deal for us at the time,” Strange recalled. “We were in the second row and they were local opposition.”

Actually arch rivals. And despite missing a number of regulars at both ends, Stromsgodset was still a top-flight scalp.

“But of course that wasn’t the headline,” Strange explains. “Most of the attention has been focused on a 13-year-old who plays for Stroms-Godset. Which is understandable.”

Nowadays, Strange rents out heavy machinery to contractors. On that June afternoon near Drammen he was dealing with something rather small. But still worth a few bobs. “We were leading 4-0 at half-time,” Strange recalled. He played at left back and after the break Stromsgodset sent on a new right winger – Martin Odegaard.

It was the 13-year-old’s senior debut, a club record. After just 25 minutes, however, he had created his first goal.

Within three years, Odegaard was on his way to Real Madrid. Now, a decade later, the 23-year-old returns to captain Arsenal in Norway, who face Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League.

“I remember it well,” he says of this debut. ‘I was a child. I feel young today and it’s like 10 years ago. I was a child. It was a good time. I played soccer, had fun, just enjoyed doing what I love.

“I didn’t think at the time that it was going to be a historic event,” admits Björn Petter Ingebretsen, who was Stromsgodset’s assistant manager at the time. “But after the game we got in trouble with the federation – he was too young to play – that finally made it a historic event!”

Stromsgodset knew they were bending the rules. “But we took the risk and were warned,” says Ingebretsen. Last night, Odegaard struggled to sleep after hearing he was allowed to play. His selection also came as a surprise to Mjondalen. But they were well prepared – Odegaard’s father, Hans Erik, was Mjondalen’s assistant coach and the player had trained with them.

At half-time, Ingebretsen and manager Ronny Deila – who later became Celtic’s boss – gave the 13-year-old his final tips. “Just be Martin,” they told him. “And watch your legs!”

Yes, it was a friendly game. But Mjondalen was a physical site. “There was nothing they didn’t try to take the ball away from him,” says Ingebretsen.

Strange insists he turned the other way. “I was kind of cautious,” he recalls. ‘I didn’t want to hurt him.’ For good reason. “He was only 13 and his father was an assistant coach. It wasn’t the headline you wanted!’

Luckily, Odegaard did the most damage, feeding Peter Kovacs who was fouled in the box before scoring a penalty. “A very good pass,” said the teenager after the game.

Adds Strange, “He did what he’s doing today, he cut inside and gave one of the forwards the assist.”

A Mjondalen staffer claims the left-back tried to offer advice to Odegaard on the pitch. Strange can’t remember. “He didn’t need instructions,” he says.

The technical ability, the talent to spot a pass… it was all there then. “You can see it today — if the defender runs too hard at Martin,” says Strange, “he just stops the ball, puts the ball in, and you’re out.”

That explains why the left-back took a safety-first approach. Well partly. “You were also a bit afraid of being dribbled over by a 13-year-old,” he admits. No wonder then-Mjondalen captain Christian Gauseth isn’t upset about missing the game. Even if it cost him a place in history. “No regrets at all,” he laughs. “I’m glad I didn’t have to embarrass a schoolboy.”

The midfielder had seen enough in training, when Odegaard often came after school, and his unit at Stromsgodset.

Hans Erik, who had drilled his son every day since he was five, asked more of Martin than anyone else. Odegaard’s remarkable work ethic has stayed with those he trained with and under.

“He had the ability to see what’s around him, and that was just unheard of,” says Gauseth. “I’m sure on our level it felt like everything was moving in slow motion for him.”

A moment remains etched in the midfielder’s psyche. Gauseth pushed the youngster from behind before receiving the ball. Odegaard went one way, then the other. “I was long gone and got hot dogs in the stands,” jokes Gauseth. Hans Erik wanted gamers to show his son the physical reality of senior games.

“He received his training in Viking football,” says Gauseth. “Special measures had to be taken to contain Martin but I don’t think he sustained any permanent damage. So mission accomplished.’

Ödegaard also survived his debut unscathed. Why didn’t Strange steal his shirt?

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