Martin Odegaard: Is Madrid's £2.5m 16-year-old a future legend or the next Freddy Adu?

Joe Hall
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Odegaard: "It's incredible that I am ready for the best club in the world. It's an honour." (Source: Getty)
With one or two exceptions aside, Real Madrid are most commonly known for buying superstars rather than making them.
Yet the European champions made headlines today not through the purchase of another household name for another record-breaking fee, but instead with the signing of 16-year-old Martin Odegaard for £2.5m.
The Norwegian prodigy’s talent has persuaded Madrid to hand him a contract worth £4.2m per year making him the highest-paid 16-year-old in football history.
The teen sensation has already played a full season in the Norwegian league, represented his country at international level and inspired countless YouTube highlights compilations.
The next Ronaldo? You can be forgiven for being skeptical. The football world is full of cautionary tales of hyped-up youngsters whose talent has gone to waste.
Fredy Adu is perhaps the most prominent example. The American made his professional debut at 14, played for the US men’s national team at 16, and moved to Benfica at 17. Now 25, he plays for FK Jagodina in the Serbian SuperLiga.

Odegaard shows off while playing for Stromsgodet. (Source: YouTube)

Despite all the hype, Odegaard’s transfer fee is only the eighth highest for 16-year-old. Such notable names as Jermaine Pennant, Fran Merida and Slobodan Rajkovic traded hands for a higher price at the same age.
In fact, a look at the 16-year-olds who have been purchased for seven figure sums reveals a number of forgotten talents and gambles backfired.
Ignoring all those still aged 19 years or younger, just six of 23 players who moved for £1m or more aged 16 ended up playing more than 50 games for their club.
The aforementioned Rajkovic became the most expensive 16-year-old ever when Chelsea bought him for £4.58m. He was eventually sold at a £2.82m loss having failed to make a single appearance.

The boy's a bit special, but will he make the cut at Madrid? (Source: YouTube)

In fact, the median number of appearances a £1m 16-year-old makes for the club joined is just 3.5, with most clubs making a loss on their speculative signings.
Buying young clearly carries risk, although there have been some notable success stories. Theo Walcott, the most expensive 16-year-old ever, has made 286 appearances for Arsenal and is still a key player. The Gunners also made £44.7m and £9.68m off Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela respectively, while Bayern Munich got 202 appearances out of Toni Kroos before selling him on for a profit of £24.8m
Yet as the richest club in the world, Madrid hardly need to worry about making a loss on a player purchased for just £2.5m. And for Odegaard who today said “if Ancelotti wants to use me for the team, I will be really happy”, that may just be a bit concern.
Explore the full list of football’s most-expensive 16-year-olds and how they’ve fared in the table below.

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