Long Reads

Joshua King – From Man Utd Failure to Reliable Premier League Goalscorer

Joshua King celebrating goal for AFC Bournemouth
Credit: Getty Images

Life in the Premier League is vastly different from how it is in the lower divisions of English football. It is a different lifestyle and a tougher nut to crack. The standards are sky-high and not every player from the lower divisions can make the cut in the Premier League. Tell this to Bournemouth’s Joshua King and he might just argue otherwise.

Indeed, King is an example of a player who had multiple doubters when he moved to the Premier League from Championship mid-table side in Blackburn. But he proved them wrong and has now become one of the Premier League’s most consistent and reliable goalscorers. He might not be as prolific as the likes of Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero, but King’s goals are an invaluable asset for Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.

What makes his story even more special is how his life in England began when he, like many others, failed to make the cut at Manchester United.

Born in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, King was blessed with ruthless pace from the very first day he began playing for an Oslo-based club Romsas IL. He began playing from the age of 9 and his talent was enough to catch the attention of Valerenga, one of the country’s biggest clubs.

Within the two-year period at Valerenga, King had already impressed Manchester United. The Red Devils, who boast a scouting that operates network far and wide, invited King on trial multiple times during this phase. While they could have signed him earlier but UEFA rules allowed King to officially sign a United deal when he turned 16 in early 2008.

After a year-long spell with the United Academy, King became a regular in the United Reserves’ side under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Throughout his stay there, King played as a striker and became a key part of his compatriot’s side, after helping the United Under-17s side win the Milk Cup in 2008 by scoring four times in just as many games.

By 2009, he had done enough for Sir Alex Ferguson to know about how well he was doing with Solskajer. United’s attacking prowess boasted of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, with Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck also in the pipeline.

He did make his debut by coming on for Welbeck against Wolves in the League Cup in September 2009 and was also named on the bench in the 4th Round clash of the same competition against Barnsley. He impressed in the rest of the league games for the Reserves’ side and United clearly saw potential in him when they loaned him out to Championship side Preston.

He joined the Lancashire side on a three-month loan deal under Sir Alex’s son Darren. He would make only eight appearances for the Deepdale-based side but impressed a lot during Preston’s 1-0 league win over Portsmouth. An injury ruled him out for the rest of the loan period but King did return to Preston once the initial loan spell ended. This was a temporary deal till January but King made only a single appearance during this time.

But King returned to the United Reserves and started from where he left off, scoring four times in the league in 11 appearances. He was also on the bench for many of United’s cup games and travelled with the squad for United’s Round of 16 Champions League tie against Marseille.

Next summer, he signed a two-year deal with the Red Devils and then joined Borussia Monchengladbach on loan. It was meant to be a different, yet a similar experience for the striker. Germany has a similar football culture to Norway and England and it was seen as another big opportunity for King to prove his worth to United and make in-roads into the first-team with Dimitar Berbatov’s influence fading away.

But the Gladbach experienced faded away into nothingness due to injury issues. He made only two appearances for the first team and four for the Gladbach reserves side, scoring twice for the former. In a side that had Raul Bobadilla, Mike Hanke and Marco Reus, it was tough for a youngster to breakthrough. It became clear that more than a lack of form, injuries were King’s real problem. They never allowed him the time to impress at any of the loan clubs.

A return to Manchester followed in January 2012 but the Old Trafford side loaned him out again – this time to Hull, where he had the most successful loan spell of his career. King appeared 18 times in the second half of the Championship season for the men in black and orange. Even though he scored only once but King had got the rhythm for playing in the first-team of a club. And he developed as a player. He became a physical unit and while the pace had reduced, King became a more intelligent and hard-working player than before.

Even though he did return to the United Reserves’, King could still never break into the first-team. With his age nearing 21 – a time when a player usually needs first-team football to develop, King joined Blackburn Rovers permanently in the winter of 2013. Robin van Persie’s signing and the thriving Javier Hernandez had killed King’s hopes of playing for the senior team and that was the final nail in the coffin of his Manchester United dream.

But the move to another Lancashire side in Blackburn provided him with the perfect chance to light up the Championship. It matched his level, considering how well he had done for Hull in the previous season.

Despite some stiff competition upfront, King got his chance under Gary Bowyer. Despite the presence of players like Jordan Rhodes, Colin Kazeem-Richards and Nuno Gomes in that Rovers’ side, King made his debut days after signing. It was on the left wing – a sign of things to come.

He did play 16 times in the second half of the season but never as the sole striker up front, becoming a regular starter either on the left or in behind Rhodes. He even played on the right in the last few games of the season. King scored twice that season and assisted just as many times but it was his work-ethic that really helped him keep his place in the side.

He scored twice next season as well and assisted six times, helping Blackburn achieve another respectable midtable finish in the league. In the 2014-15 season, he played only 15 games and that brought about questions with regard to whether Blackburn was still the place for King. Shifted out wide wasn’t his best place and King felt that he could score more by playing up front. He rejected the offer of a new contract from Blackburn and his contract expired in the summer of 2015.

Many felt that King’s career had stalled. His development had been hindered by injuries and a lack of form and goal scoring ability from being played wide. At an age when players should be at their prime, King was struggling to play regularly at a midtable Championship side.

For a Bournemouth side that had sealed a historic promotion to the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history, King seemed like a back-up option to Callum Wilson, who had scored 23 times for the Cherries in the 2014-15 season. King wouldn’t just have big shoes to fill, but he would even have a point to prove. More than that, there were similarities in the way Wilson and King played. That would have allowed the side a seamless transition to having a different man in attack even when Wilson was dealing with injury problems.

Some fans couldn’t believe it. But for a club with tight finances like Bournemouth, there was zero risk involved since it was a free transfer.

After some initial struggles in the Premier League, King adjusted well and Wilson’s serious injury issues handed him the chance to play with either Benik Afobe or Lewis Grabban. And the Norwegian did well, scoring six goals in the league that season and assisting thrice. In Wilson’s absence, King was the Cherries’ highest-scorer that season with a tally of seven in all competitions.

Since then, it has been a story of upwards trajectory for King. The 2016-17 was the best season of his career as he scored 16 goals. He scored only two goals less than Sergio Aguero that season; one less than Zlatan Ibrahimovic – an achievement in itself for a man who many felt won’t make the cut in the Premier League. Bournemouth too enjoyed an impressive season, finishing 9th and level on points with 8th placed rivals Southampton.

In the last 2-3 years, King has been pushed wide often. But he has now become a lethal finisher and Bournemouth’s chief penalty-taker. His transfer defines everything Bournemouth have become known for – cheeky and intelligent moves that reap rewards in the long-term.

He is one of the first names of the teamsheet these days and one of those players who testifies Eddie Howe’s football values. He works hard, presses the opposition high up the pitch and has the pace to go past people. He will work his socks off and will be willing to do anything Howe asks of him. More than that, the fans love him.

Discreetly, he has established himself as a proper Premier League player. Very few have realised how far he has come from being the scrawny kid who struggled at his loan spells in England and abroad.