Oh Captain, Our Captain: Arsenal Name Martin Ødegaard Team Captain
In the build-up to the final pre-season fixture before the beginning of a pivotal Premier League campaign, Arsenal announced Martin Ødegaard as club captain. The Norwegian now skippers both club and country. Many viewed the announcement as a formality, with the 23-year-old taking the armband for the warmup games, as well as deputising for former striker Alexandre Lacazette towards the back end of last season.
You may be forgiven for questioning the significance of the news that Ødegaard will lead the team for the 22/23 season. Many believe the role of captain to be outdated, and overestimated. The archetypal leader of days gone is a dying breed. Tony Adams, Steven Gerrard and John Terry represented iconic, quintessential captains – it doesn’t require much effort to picture them caked in a cocktail of blood and mud, roaring their troops into battle. They contributed immeasurably to some extremely successful teams. The simple truth is, however, that the role of captain – just like football – has evolved.
That’s not to say that this “conventional” style of captaincy is redundant. You only needed to witness Arsenal’s pre-game huddle at Saturday’s Emirates Cup fixture against Sevilla. The cameras settled on an animated Granit Xhaka remonstrating passionately as he commanded the group which included a silent and broody Ødegaard. At first glance you might question why the freshly appointed captain is deferring in this situation. Surely, he would want to make his mark in his first official game with the armband, to show the fans that he is the one who steers the ship and commands the authority? In fact, it is this ability to defer that makes Ødegaard the perfect candidate to lead this club going forward. A good leader is aware not only of their weaknesses, but of their team’s strengths. Arsenal’s new captain demonstrated appreciation of this in his comments after the game:
“It’s important that we all take leadership, it’s not just about me or a few people but I think everyone needs to take the leadership and do what’s best for the team” (Arsenal.com).
It may seem insignificant, but it’s this kind of subtle intelligence that we have observed time and time again on the pitch, and that we are now beginning to see off of it.
Ødegaard has only been with the team for 18 months, after his 6-month loan deal from Real Madrid in January 2021 was made permanent in the summer that followed. Time often flies in the dynamic and ever-changing world of football, but it feels like the Norwegian has been a stalwart at the club for years – such is the favour he carries within the dressing room and with players, staff and fans alike. It is no secret to Arsenal and Norway fans with their ear to the ground that Ødegaard has charmed everyone who he has worked with through his elite professionalism, humble nature and his ability to inspire those around him through his high standards and work ethic. Back in December 2021, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta stated that “if you look for the perfect professional [Ødegaard] wouldn’t be very far from [it]” (Arsenal.com).
The coach’s appreciation of Ødegaard is hugely significant to why this appointment makes perfect sense. A large part of Arteta’s work has been to overhaul the club’s culture and bring an arrest to the sliding standards that have plagued Arsenal in recent years. To achieve this, he has been very vocal about his ‘non-negotiables’ – fundamental principles that underpin the team’s progress – and instilling a winning mentality within the squad, whether that be through transfers or development of the youth Arsenal boast. Frequently, Ødegaard has been the touchpoint between the squad and the manager. A few trips down to the Emirates in recent months and it is plain to see that Ødegaard is the man trusted to relay Arteta’s complex tactical instructions to the team.
The manager said after the game against Sevilla on Saturday:
“Since [Odegaard’s] been with us, he’s represented the values of this football club, the team, the teammates and the staff in the best possible way. He’s displayed an ambition to take this club to a different level” (Arsenal.com).
Everything Ødegaard represents as a footballer and a person aligns with the direction Arteta is taking this football club. His professionalism, ambition and love for this club create natural parallels between him and the captain that Arteta was. At 23 years old, he embodies the potential to grow that this young Arsenal team possesses.
In recent memory, the Arsenal captaincy has been cursed. Relationships with William Gallas, Robin van Persie, Laurent Koscielny and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have ended in messy divorces. The Arsenal faithful are justifiably sceptical every time a new skipper is announced. But if anyone can buck the trend, it is Arsenal’s new captain.
The images from Saturday’s game pictured something that Arsenal fans could certainly get used to. One game, one trophy lifted under the Norwegian’s tenure. This could be the start of something special. And Arsenal couldn’t have a better man to lead them to it.
Martin Ødegaard, my captain.
Andre Mederick, @goonerameds.