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.
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. 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.
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.
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.