Joshua King was a relatively unheralded arrival during the summer of 2015, as AFC Bournemouth prepared for their maiden season in the Premier League. After rejecting the offer of a new contract at Blackburn Rovers, the Norwegian international opted for a change of scenery and travelled south to join the Cherries. Because he was under the age of 24, Bournemouth had to pay Rovers compensation to the tune of £1 million. King has repaid that and then some, becoming arguably Eddie Howe’s best value-for-money purchase since he steered the club to the top-flight.
It has certainly not been a smooth journey for King, who initially struggled to adapt to his new surroundings. Somewhat surprisingly, Howe had named him in the starting line-up for Bournemouth’s curtain-raiser against Aston Villa at the expense of Yann Kermorgant, who had been a mainstay of the team’s Championship-winning campaign. But his first taste of Premier League football proved to be a baptism of fire for King, whose performances and partnership with Callum Wilson failed to sparkle. Low on confidence and yet to break his duck in front of goal, he eventually lost his place to Lee Tomlin, a £3.5m summer signing from Middlesbrough.
But one man’s misfortune can often be another’s gain as a serious knee injury to Wilson, which ruled him out for six months, handed King an opportunity to stake his claim as the club’s number nine. It was one he grabbed with both hands. King netted his first goal for Bournemouth in the 2-2 draw away to Swansea City, before getting his name on the scoresheet a further five times in the league. Most famously, he scored the winner in the Cherries’ 2-1 victory over his former club, Manchester United, last December.
King’s goals-per-game ratio suggests he may never be a prolific marksman – but there is so much more to his game. With pace to burn, no shortage of skill and deceptive strength, King possesses all the attributes Howe looks for. Indeed, he left a lasting impression on the Cherries boss when playing for Blackburn at Dean Court back in 2013, tearing apart the hosts with a virtuoso display that showcased his vast potential. With Wilson back to full fitness and having regained his place in the side, King has been redeployed to the wing, where he has caused defenders havoc. It is this versatility that has enabled him to become an indispensable player.
The attitude of the club’s supporters towards King has changed immeasurably. The reservations that accompanied his early displays, which were characterised by anxiety and self-doubt, have long since vanished. Now, he is firmly established as a fans’ favourite. It is testament to King’s dedication to maximising his talent that he continually wants to improve. He has bought fully into Howe’s philosophy and been rewarded with his trust. In addition, the former Manchester United man’s tireless work-rate has not gone unnoticed on the terraces.
Perhaps it is telling that, of all the outfield signings Howe made during his first summer as a Premier League manager, it is the unsung King who has had by far the most staying power. Much was written about and expected of the likes of Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings, Glenn Murray and Tomlin, who all joined with big reputations and for eye-watering transfer fees. For various reasons, they have failed to have the same impact as King, who is one of the club’s major success stories. With two goals in 10 appearances already this season, the Norwegian is once again proving his worth. And it’s considerably more than £1m.