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If there’s one thing United have been disappointingly good at in recent years, it’s losing Norwegians. Ole, Magnus and Etzaz have all moved on for various reasons and Joshua King could follow them out of the door in January.
United’s ties with Norway were strengthened in the mid 90s as Berg, Johnsen, Solskjaer and Nevland were all on the books. With the exception of Nevland, they all had success during their time at the club and have gone on to maintain a close association with United. Ronny Johnsen does a lot of ambassadorial work and Ole, having managed the club’s Reserve side is now the manager of Molde with various former United players (Eikrem and Hussain) and staff (Dempsey and Hartis) working under his stewardship.
There remain two Norwegian representatives at the club today – Joshua King and Mats Daehli. As has been heavily documented, Mats offers tremendous potential despite being just 17. His start to the season as a second year in the Academy has shown maturity and more confidence to take men on. Mats possesses a rare ability to perform many different roles – a deep, anchoring playmaker or a wide creative spark. It’s too early to make any predictions about him but last season’s young player of the year is continuing to show exactly why fans are getting excited about him.
As for Joshua, things are a little different for him. It’s three years since his last and only appearance for the first team although he’s been in match squads since. Having always been somewhat reliant on pace and power, he stood out as a youngster but was probably never as lethal as he could or should have been. Like many young players he fell victim to various injuries relating to growth and a changing body which has certainly made his time at United a little stuttered.
For some reason, United have found it hard to get good loans for certain players – Macheda an obvious example. King was sent on loan to Preston as an 18 year old and although it gave him an appreciation of how tough professional football was, he didn’t play as often as United would have hoped and ultimately he was recalled when Darren Ferguson was sacked. He returned to United and spent the remainder of the 2010/11 season in the Reserves predominantly learning a new wide position as part of a front three, not an old fashioned winger.
The season after, a promising sounding loan with Borussia Mönchengladbach was agreed but despite looking like he was physically ready, Joshua had very few chances in Germany and eventually returned injured to Manchester. United had quite a settled Reserves side at the time and so Joshua joined Hull on loan for the remainder of the season once he was fit again. Although he didn’t score many goals there, fans were full of praise for his work ethic and often commented that his pace scared defenders, putting them on the back-foot. He finished the season back in United’s Reserves although looked slightly off the pace, as did Ryan Tunnicliffe who’d also been on loan in the Championship.
For many reasons, this season felt like it would be a big one for Joshua. He’ll turn 21 in January and has more competition than ever before for a place not just in the first team but at U21 level too. He quite honestly and fairly told the Norwegian press over the summer that with one year left on his contract he’d have to seriously consider his options and probably leave in January if it looked like he wouldn’t be in the United first team. It’s not that he isn’t patient but he’s aware of the amount of players ahead of him and is at a point where he needs to be playing regularly at a certain standard.
However, Joshua’s stints on loan and spell out wide in a front three have taught him a lot about wing play and team play. He’s become more than just a striker and this season has almost always been used in a wide role by Warren Joyce. So far, the results have been more than encouraging – he’s had a super start to the campaign. He has a great work rate and learned when to stay wide and when to cut in. Most impressively though, the selfish streak has disappeared a little and he’s making fantastic decisions in the final third resulting in a series of assists.
Joshua looks fitter, stronger, faster and more mature. His reward has been a debut and place in the Norwegian national team as well as inclusion in a few United first team squads. Having joined up with the national team this week though, he’s once again reiterated that the exit may not be far away. His goal is to be a professional footballer at United but he can’t wait forever. There is a glimmer of hope though – he commented that he sees the left side of the United team as an area he could expose given his new found role. An opportunity may arise there. In fact, he himself thinks that his prospects and chances are much better now than they were a few months ago.
Few could be critical of Joshua and be angry with his comments. He’s playing very well and probably as consistently as he has at any point during his spell at the club – he deserves a chance in the first team but there are so many ahead of him. Should he leave, and Ole’s Molde along with various Premier League clubs have been linked, it’ll be an understandable decision. However, for a player who’s so often sought after some rhythm , it’ll be a real shame for his hard work to go without any kind of reward.