Originally published in The Times by James Gheerbrant, February 2021
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One of the best assists in European football last season came in a match between Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alavés in the early weeks, and was played by Martin Odegaard — the Norway midfielder who is now on loan at Arsenal.
You may even have seen it: Odegaard nudges the ball between the legs of Tomás Pina, then looks up and plays an exquisite slide-rule pass which takes eight Alavés defenders out of the game, lures the goalkeeper off his line and gives Mikel Oyarzabal a tap-in.
What you probably didn’t see, unless you were looking for it, is the way that, just before he receives the pass from Diego Llorente, Odegaard’s head whips round like a woodpecker’s, taking a mental snapshot of the space over his shoulder. He has spoken about the importance of this facet of his game. “I do it a lot,” he told Guillem Balague. “I like to look around. Fast, small glances, but at the same time, remember to look at the ball enough too. That’s why I look up a lot, instead of fewer long ones.”