CELTIC midfielder Stefan Johansen has urged his compatriot Martin Odegaard to snub the advances of a host of European football’s elite clubs and join him at the Scottish champions.
Norwegian prodigy Odegaard, already a full international at the age of 15, is currently weighing up a list of suitors which includes Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The attacking midfielder, regarded as the brightest young talent in Europe, has a year left on his contract with Stromsgodset, the Norwegian club where he was previously mentored by Celtic manager Ronny Deila.
According to Deila, Celtic are one of “around 20 clubs” in contention for Odegaard’s signature and he has not given up hope of his personal relationship with the teenager proving a decisive factor in the process.
Now Johansen, a team-mate of Odegaard when he made his record-breaking senior debut for Norway earlier this season, has revealed he is in regular contact with the youngster and believes Celtic would be the ideal next step in his career.
“I’ve talked a lot with Martin,” said Johansen. “We keep in touch and speak on the phone a lot. I’ve told him that Celtic can be a good choice for him.
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“The way we play would suit him. We have the ball a lot and that’s what Martin likes. He wants to be on the ball and creating chances. Every team needs a player like that.
“He also knows the gaffer at Celtic but it’s difficult when so many clubs want you. What can I say? He’s a patient boy and is very mature in the way he thinks.
“His father helps him a lot and I think the right thing for him is to take the best step for his career.
“To say that you are going to go and play at Real Madrid and compete against Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and those guys right away – for a 15-year-old that’s going to be difficult. He would be unlikely to play right away at a Real Madrid or Barcelona. Of course it would be difficult.
“I speak to him all the time and he knows the manager here at Celtic and also myself. But he needs to choose for himself.
“I’m sure he will make the right decision – although if he wants to take my position in the team at Celtic, he can stay home in Norway!
“But seriously, Martin is an amazing talent and I hope he comes to Celtic. The gaffer has shown in Norway that he is very good with young players and he gives them a chance when they deserve it.
“He knows what young players need and has shown that before. But I don’t want to say too much to Martin and tell him to do this and do that. His father is a good guy and Martin himself is also very mature for his age. I’m sure he’ll make the right decision.”
Odegaard, who became the youngest ever player to feature in a European Championship match when he came on as a substitute in Norway’s win over Bulgaria in September, will celebrate his 16th birthday next Wednesday. Johansen insists the hype surrounding Odegaard is fully justified.
“He’s been visiting all the big clubs in Europe to see what they have to offer and it’s probably the most insane thing I’ve seen around a 15-year-old boy,” added Johansen.
“Everybody in Norway is talking about him. It’s crazy, all the stuff around him. But I am very impressed with the way he has handled it all and everything that has gone on around him.
“He really is a very good player. He’s just about to turn 16 but you can give him the ball and know he won’t lose it. He’s creative too.
“He’s young and will get stronger. Give him one or two years and he will get there on the physical side. But on the ball, he is fantastic.”
Johansen was speaking as Celtic arrived in Zagreb for their final Europa League Group D qualifier against Croatian champions Dinamo at the Maksimir Stadium tonight.
With qualification for the last 32 already secure, Johansen and his team-mates can start to look ahead to Monday’s draw for the knockout phase which includes those clubs dropping down from the Champions League groups.
“I’d love to get an English team in the draw,” said Johansen. “If you want to go all the way to the top you need to beat those kind of teams. It would be great as there would be a fantastic atmosphere at Celtic Park.
“English football is huge back in Norway. It’s the most popular for the fans to watch on TV. I wasn’t much of an armchair fan myself, but my family are all big Liverpool fans.
“I have two uncles and some cousins who are crazy for Liverpool.
“With Liverpool now dropping out of the Champions League into the Europa League, it would be special for them if Celtic could play Liverpool at some stage. They’ve already told me they will come over to both games, although I’m not sure who they would support.
“I think it’s a good thing for the Europa League to have those teams coming in at the next stage. Of course everyone wants to play in the Champions League, but this is also a very interesting tournament with strong teams.
“We are going into the knockout stages next and we want to go as far as we can. First we have to play the game against Dinamo Zagreb and it’s not meaningless to us because we want to prove ourselves in this competition by winning games.
“It’s a tough European match away from home and this is a good opportunity to get another big game experience under our belts before the knockout stage.”
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