Prior to the World Cup it felt redundant to even speculate who would win this season’s PFA Player of the Year merit. It was destined to be Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.
How could that not be the case, with the prolific Norwegian smashing goal-scoring records for fun and terrorising centre-backs for kicks.
A third of the way through his inaugural campaign in English football, Haaland was scoring at a rate of a goal every 58 minutes.
Failing him, it had to be his arch-creator Kevin De Bruyne. Already a two-time winner of the prestigious award, the brilliant Belgian was regularly serving up chances on a plate for his team-mate, while delighting elsewhere.
A good season for De Bruyne produces great football that is a privilege to behold.
It may still be one of these pair of course, and they suitably remain short-priced in the football betting, but circumstances have changed post-Qatar, dramatically so and sufficiently for a new name to emerge in the reckoning.
With City’s season coming off the rails somewhat, finally we are seeing a long overdue appreciation of another creator supreme, one who conjures up his magic two hundred miles to the south. Step forward Martin Odegaard.
Installed as Arsenal’s captain at the start of 2022/23, the 24-year-old Norwegian has elevated his already heightened game this term, establishing himself as arguably the most pivotal member of Mikel Arteta’s surprise title chasers and in doing so, to date, he has scored eight goals in 19 outings and assisted six times.
Committing to 2.6 shots-per-game, averaging an 82% pass completion rate, and threading 2.2 key passes per 90 are also numbers not to be sniffed at.
Yet it could be said that Odegaard’s importance to the Gunners transcends mere stats, providing as he does a reassuring presence in the final third, a calmness in tight areas that makes him a threat even when they doesn’t appear to be one.
He is neat in possession. Precise and quick-witted. Indeed, so much of Arsenal’s fluidity – a swift, swooshy maelstrom of movement and passing that best explains the club’s outstanding campaign – has him at its centre.
If Thomas Partey is the lungs of this Arsenal side, and Bukayo Saka and co are the hands, that hold the brushes that paint the pretty pictures, then Odegaard is the brains of the operation.
He controls proceedings, controls the tempo, and by doing so at an exceptional standard for a team that is on course to win a league title against all expectations, surely he has to be in the running to secure the biggest individual prize.
Which he is.
In recent weeks, Odegaard’s odds in the sports betting have notably shortened and moreover, as stated, there is now finally a growing acknowledgement outside of North London of what he contributes on a weekly basis, and who he is as a player.
Because leading up to this vintage year there was still a reputation that proceeded the midfielder, that of a former wonderkid, who moved to Real Madrid too early and subsequently failed to make the grade. Nobody is talking about that anymore.
There is only ardent admiration for a Premier League player of the season in waiting.
FIRST PUBLISHED: 8th February 2023