Joshua King is half an hour into discussing everything from Eddie Howe’s unrelenting standards to the emergence of Erling Braut Haaland and the influence a former Norway prodigy, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, had as his reserves manager at Manchester United, but it is listening to the Bournemouth striker talk about the significance of the black history tattoo that covers his back that is particularly absorbing.
There are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley and Malcolm X to name a few.
“I’ve got Rosa Parks as well,” King points out. “I’ve got the first time she was allowed to sit at the front of the bus, when they waived that rule, which she fought for, and above that is her when she didn’t want to move and she got put in jail. They are heroes that fought for everyone to be equal. It’s not completely finished but, when it is, it’s going to look dope. It is a big piece I’m very proud of.”
King, a quiet leader by his own admission, is softly spoken but refreshingly frank and thoughtful. To him, an only child born to a Gambian father in the Romsås district of Oslo, those inked on his back act as inspiration. “I’ve got a Muhammad Ali too,” he says. “It is just people who are heroes to us. There is a lot of racism going on in football lately and I can’t really understand that. We are in 2019 and it’s going on but that’s the world we live in. As professional footballers we have to be an idol for other kids and behave in the right way. It’s not nice for anyone to hear and for the likes of Pogba, Lukaku and others that have had it. I think it’s unacceptable.”
Between the ages of two and 16, when he joined United, for whom he made two appearances before joining Blackburn, his father, Joshua, took him to visit family near Banjul, the Gambia’s capital, every year. King tells of how one Christmas, when he was around eight, one of his aunties in Africa was delighted to receive a can of coke as a present.
“It makes you think: ‘How can you ever complain about what we have in Norway?’ My dad wanted me to understand what I have back home and not to take it for granted. ‘This is your family, this is where I come from, this is my brother’s kids, my cousin’s kids.’ Because when you’re born in Norway, everything is great. It is probably one of the best places to grow up as a kid when it comes to hospitals, dentists, security.”
King, who holds his hands up to being spoiled as a kid, is determined to take his son, Noah, who is three, to the Gambia one day to pass on the same lessons. “When he doesn’t get what he wants, he says: ‘Daddy said I can have that.’ But that doesn’t work with me. I was once him, so I know all of the tricks in the book. He’s not going to get away with a lot but taking him to Africa and making sure [he knows] that what we’ve got and what I’ve fought for my family to have, and I’m still trying to achieve, it’s not come easy. To have it, you have to work hard and I hope he will grow up to be a great man.
“I will always be proud of him no matter what he becomes. If he wants to be a football player, tennis player, if he wants to be an architect, a lawyer – whatever – I will always be proud of him but the one thing he can never do is try and fool me.”
King smiles. “When I come home he wants to play football but he won’t play on his own. If I’m in the garden, he loves to play but the problem is I come home from training and I’m knackered, so I can play for a bit but he does not know what ‘stop’ or ‘tired’ means. He can literally run around in the garden for two hours straight and I haven’t got the energy for that – I’ve got a Premier League game on the Saturday. He’s a very good kid and the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Bournemouth must consider the £1m they paid Blackburn for King four years ago money well spent. As for United, King reels off a list of former teammates, including Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, but when asked who stood out in such a talented group, he answers before the question finishes. “Easy, Ravel [Morrison],” he says. “That’s the easiest [question]. If you ask any player at United back then, Ravel was just different class. Ravel could have been the level just below Messi and Ronaldo.
“He’s been unlucky but he’s got a good heart. People have probably got the wrong impression of him. Sometimes when you grow up, it’s rough and you can’t control that but he’s got the biggest heart and he is easily the most talented player I’ve ever played with.”
King is reluctant to amplify the discourse surrounding Pogba but argues the price tag has been unhelpful. “At his best he is probably in the top five midfielders in the world. He gets a lot of unneeded attention, because everything he does … if he doesn’t chase back and someone scores, the eyes are on him. Every time something happens at United, they point at Paul. Is it fair? Maybe not. But maybe that’s what comes with the price when you pay £89m.”
It was not so long ago, while taking finishing advice off Solskjær – “you would just open your ears, take it in, close your ears and try and do it in the drill” – that King was considered the next generation but, at 27, he is one of the older heads at Bournemouth and with Norway, where the teenage sensation Haaland is the latest striker to generate great excitement. “I think Erling will go very far because of his mindset,” King says. “You can just see his hunger. He’s a young kid and I feel like the Norwegian media put a lot of pressure on the young players that come through; Martin Ødegaard for example. Finally now you can see what he’s starting to become but he’s still young [20 years old].”
King’s aspirations are to establish Bournemouth, who host West Ham on Saturday after successive wins, as a top-10 team. Long-term, he says, there is no reason the club should not target the Europa League and, in Howe, they have a meticulous coach.
“The gaffer wants the highest level from every single player, starting from the warm-up to the rondos, to the possession and passing drills, to the games – even finishing at the end. There is no messing about. You can joke once you’ve come back in and training is finished but once you’re on the pitch it is business. The one thing he demands of his players is workrate. If you give him that and all the other stuff doesn’t come off, he’ll back you all the way.”
The Guardian Sport