AFTER he played an integral part in his development, Celtic fans may well be hoping that Ronny Deila has a head start on other potential suitors for 15-year- old Norwegian prodigy Martin Odegaard.
However, the Celtic manager has played down such notions by pointing out that the teenager is on the radar of clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona. Odegaard made history earlier this week by becoming the youngest player in the history of the European Championships when coming on as substitute for Norway against Bulgaria at the age of 15 years and 300 days.
Odegaard made the breakthrough at Stromsgodset when Deila was still manager there. There was understandable pride in his tone as Deila reflected on Odegaard’s incredible progress yesterday. But he calmed talked of a potential move to Celtic.
“We have big competition for him,” he said. “Of course, if he wanted to think about it, there could be possibilities, but clubs such as Real Madrid, Bracelona and Bayern Munich are looking at him now.
“I think the most important thing is he stays at Stromsgodset and plays. I haven’t asked to be kept informed because I know so many people there that I know what is going on. In Norway, I have quite good control. I know his dad, but he also knows what he wants, so…”
While Deila did not sound optimistic about the chances of enticing Odegaard to Celtic he was happy to reflect on his own part in the remarkable tale. He handed Odegaard his first-team debut in a friendly match at the age of just 13½.
Deila also recalled him coming on to change a game against FC Astra, the Romanian club who play Celtic in the Europa League next week.
“He’s never stopped surprising me,” said Deila. “You put him on a stage and he takes his chance. But you can see his mentality. In press conferences, he talks like he is 35 years old and he loves his football.
“He’s not just a natural talent and hard working with his legs. He’s very bright in the head as well. Two years ago, he played for me in the first team at 13½ years old.
“I put him into a training match on the wing. He didn’t run backwards, but he made no mistakes going forward, even though we lost 5-1. The next year, he was in and out of training.
“When he just turned 15, we were in La Manga and he went onto the pitch in the final [of a tournament] against Astra. He came on for the last 20 minutes and made the winning goal as we won 1-0 and got the club 50,000 euros.
“He was lifting his level and starting games when I left Stromsgodset. Now he’s regular and going to the national team, so he’s improving every year.
“I haven’t worked so much with him. Just one and a half years, so I won’t take credit for him. But there are some great talents at Stromsgodset and that is something I am proud of.”
Meanwhile, Deila described himself as “comfortable” with the situation after Neil Lennon refused to rule out returning for Celtic players following his appointment as Bolton manager. Kris Commons is one player who has been linked with Lennon already and he is still to sign an extension to a contract which expires at the end of this season.
“I do not think I need to think too much about that,” said Deila. “It is still quite a long time until the window is open so there is going to be rumours every week about who is going here and there. But we want to keep our best players.
“We have good control in everything we do,” he added.
“I am calm about that. As I said, it is football, you never know what might happen, or what kind of bid will come in for your players.
“It is too early to say what will happen in January. We are thinking more about what we are going to do and how we are going to make our team stronger.”