‘The Odegaard Shuffle’ is the new ‘Ozil chop’ – and makes him the most creative player in Europe

Martin Odegaard on the ball during Arsenal's Champions League tie against Porto

Surrounded by blue and white shirts on the edge of the penalty area, Martin Odegaard was in possession of the ball for three seconds. For two and a half of those seconds, there was no pass available to the Arsenal captain. No way through the block that Porto’s defenders had created.

But then, at the crucial moment, Odegaard produced the slightest of touches. A tiny shift of the ball with the outside of his left foot, almost imperceptible to the naked eye. Suddenly, like a single ray of light finding a crack in the wall, the gap appeared. The ball was gone, Leandro Trossard was in, and Arsenal had found the goal they craved.

It was an assist straight from the Odegaard playmaking playbook. The most creative footballer in Europe can unlock a defence in all kinds of ways but one of his favourite tricks appears to be this little shuffle of the ball, just a half-yard, to create the angle he needs. Speed of thought, speed of foot. Where Mesut Ozil had ‘The Ozil chop’, where he kicked the top of the ball into the turf to make it bounce, Arsenal’s incumbent creative leader has ‘The Odegaard Shuffle’.

Aside from the penalty shootout victory, in which goalkeeper David Raya starred, this touch of defence-breaking genius was the standout moment of another night in which Odegaard showed the way for Arsenal. Victory took Mikel Arteta’s side to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2010, and reaffirmed Odegaard’s status as the leader that this club has been wanting for years.

In the Premier League this season, Odegaard has created 62 chances from open play, the most of any player in Europe’s top five leagues. Arsenal’s attacks flow through the Norwegian, who operates with a subtlety and intricacy that makes him consistently effective in even the tightest of areas.

As he demonstrated with that assist for Trossard, one of Odegaard’s most important attributes is ball manipulation. Stylistically, this is what makes him different to the other leading playmakers in the Premier League, such as Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes.

Generally, the likes of De Bruyne and Fernandes will get the ball out of their feet and whip a pass forward, with power and accuracy. Odegaard, by contrast, is often at his most dangerous when the ball is shifting beneath his studs.

His ability to take numerous touches in quick succession, shuffling from right foot to left, from the inside of his foot to the outside, is often what opens up the passing lanes on the edge of the penalty area.

The pass for Trossard was far from the first example. Against Burnley a few weeks ago, Odegaard’s feet touched the ball four times in less than two seconds as he created a goal for Bukayo Saka. It is a quick step, pitter-pattering sort of move, and it can make all the difference in a game when timing and positioning are everything.

Such is the speed of Odegaard’s footwork, he is sometimes capable of changing the angle of the ball and playing a pass in one move. Physically, it is a triumph of ankle flexibility and core strength. One of these “flip-flap” passes, for Eddie Nketiah against Wolves earlier this season, would have been one of the assists of the season if the ball had ended up in the net.

A similarly spectacular move almost produced a goal for Granit Xhaka against Manchester United last season, and prompted a collective purring of approval on social media.

This sort of shuffling skill cannot be described as dribbling. Odegaard is not a player who surges past an opponent, in the way that a winger such as Saka would do. Instead he uses his supreme technical skill to pull defenders around, to put them off balance and to open up avenues where no avenue previously existed. It is small-space football, for a team that is so often forced to operate in small spaces.

One could not help but wonder what Pepe, the 41-year-old warrior in Porto’s defence, made of Odegaard’s performance. The pair were team-mates at Real Madrid in the past, at a very different time in Odegaard’s life. He was 16 when he joined Madrid and never settled at the club, where he initially trained with the first team and played matches with the reserve team. It was an arrangement that made it challenging for Odegaard to establish himself with senior players such as Pepe.

But the boy has become a man now and, when he and Pepe strode forward for the coin toss before the penalty shootout, they did so as the respective frontmen of their teams. Odegaard won the toss, chose to shoot first, took that first penalty and smashed it into the corner. That is leadership, and that is what Arsenal have come to expect from their fleet-footed maestro.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.

Previous post Russia is ready for nuclear war, Putin warns the West
Next post Pixie Dust Technologies Announces CFO Transition