Josh King interview: I dreamed of making it at Manchester United – and believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will take them back to the top
This article was originally published in November 2019
Josh King’s route to Premier League success hasn’t exactly been conventional.
The half-Gambian Norwegian came over to England at 16, but failed to break into the first team at Manchester United.
An underwhelming loan spell at Preston North End was twice cut short, first by injury and then after the sacking of Alex Ferguson’s son Darren.
Then a season-long move to Borussia Monchengladbach the following year was curtailed prematurely after a series of groin injuries.
By 2015, and now 23, King found himself struggling to get regular football for Blackburn, in the Championship.
With just eight goals in 74 appearances at Ewood Park, it appeared King’s Premier League dream was fading away.
And then came the Bournemouth game during the 2014/15 season. The story goes that King impressed watching Cherries boss Eddie Howe so much that Howe took a chance on the forward upon Bournemouth’s unlikely Premier League promotion.
Neither Bournemouth, Howe or King have looked back.
King is firm when asked if he ever doubted his ability to make it in the big time.
“No, no,” he tells FFT, when we catch up with him at the launch of Need for Speed Heat. “I had a dream of becoming a United player. That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not becoming a football player.
“I didn’t think I got my chance at Blackburn. I got played out on the wing a lot.
“I think that’s the case with every player though. There’s only certain players like Messi, Ronaldo and Mbappe that come into the first team straight away when they’re young. You have players that need to go on loan or take different routes.
“I’ve been strong mentally, and believed in myself. Hard work is the main ingredient to how I’ve made it here.”
It’s unsurprising that King is grateful for the role Howe has played in his ascent. But his visible enthusiasm for the 41-year-old’s coaching nous is still striking.
“Eddie is an amazing manager, but he’s an even better coach,” King gushed. “He has to be hands on every time in training.
“Every single session is 100% from the warm-up, it has to be serious.
“I think he’s more than capable of taking over England in the future.
“But I don’t think it’ll be enough for him seeing the boys and being out on the training pitch once a month.
“He just loves to coach and help the players develop. He does everything.
“Maybe it [the England job] will happen in the future.”
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Under Howe’s tutelage, King has formed a dynamic partnership with England man Callum Wilson. Their “healthy competition” spurs the two of them on, and last season the duo plundered 26 Premier League goals between them, as both hit double figures individually.
Their goals have fired the south coast club to record highs, including a top-half finish in 2016/17 - King’s most prolific season.
Bournemouth now sit just one point from fifth, but King warns that previous false dawns have kept the players’ feet on the ground.
He said: “This year there’s been no talk about the Europa League and we’re just taking it game by game, week by week.
“I think we made that mistake last year. We played amazing for the first 12 games and we were fifth or sixth and talking about the Europa League.
“And then we went down the league. We had a bad, bad spell of games.
“We let ourselves down a few times this season, and I think we should have grabbed a few more points where they were there for the taking.
“We beat United which is good, but sometimes in the past we’ve beaten a big club and then let ourselves down against someone in the bottom half.
“That’s what I feel like needs to change to really aim higher on that table at the end of the season.”
King scored the winner in that victory against his former club, an audacious flick-and-volley combination that belied a player brimming with confidence and ability.
It secured a defeat for King’s compatriot and former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. What was life like under United’s boss, when he was in charge of the reserve side at Old Trafford?
“He was good, but it was the start of his managerial career,” said King. “He was brilliant with me, and helped me.
“I know him as a person and a manager and have loads of respect for him.
“When he took over United I was very happy for him and his family because I know how much that meant for him as a person - it’s always been his dream.
“I hope and believe he’ll get United back to where they were, but obviously they need time.”
Like Solskjaer before him, King is Norway’s main source of goals. The 27-year-old has 16 goals in 44 appearances for his national team.
He is likely to pick up a devastating strike partner in the near future, though. Erling Haaland, 19, has already scored 27 goals this season in, including a remarkable eight in the Champions League.
NEED FOR SPEED HEAT
“He’s been on fire hasn’t he!” exclaims King. “I’m really happy for the kid.
“We have a good future for Norway with him, Martin [Odegaard] and Sander Berge coming through.
“The sky’s the limit for him.”
King is just nine goals away from becoming Norway’s record goalscorer in the post-war era. It’s a record he’d be proud to pick up, but he is quick to point out that Haaland’s ridiculous talent will probably ensure he only holds it briefly.
A more pressing issue from King’s perspective is his country’s prospects of qualifying for Euro 2020. He remains disappointed with draws to Romania that make conventional qualification nigh-impossible, but holds out hope for a victory in the March 2020 play-offs, which Norway will be eligible for based on their Nations League performance.
It is clear that failing to make a major tournament with his country would represent a sizeable regret for King.
King grew up in Romsas, an Oslo suburb. He describes his childhood as “10 out of 10”, and “all about football”.
“Where I grew up there was only foreigners,” King said. “I never witnessed racism or anything. It wasn’t hard.”
King’s father, Chuku, made sure his son didn’t take his surroundings for granted. He took the fledgling footballer back to Gambia every Christmas from the age of two to 16.
“He made sure I saw how my cousins had it,” said King. “Taking me to Africa once a year meant you see the world from a different perspective.
“That made me grow into the person I am today.”
No-one could fault King’s parents’ commitment to their son’s career. In the ten years before King’s move to Manchester, Chuku missed just three of his son’s matches.
“We went to Denmark, Sweden - sometimes he’d drive and sleep in the car during tournaments, he wouldn’t care.
“If I played well he’d ring me and not moan, but I didn’t have a good game then he’d moan. He’d never praise me, but if he doesn’t moan that means I’ve had a decent game!
“Fortunately I’ve inherited his state of mind - he’s a workaholic.
“My mum [May-Beth] moved with me when I was 16 and lived with me for two years.
“She made a sacrifice and invested in me and rolled the dice on that. She moved away from her friends in Norway and her job.
“Luckily it worked out, because now I can help them.”
It hasn’t always been easy, but in the end things have most definitely worked out for King.