After countless transfer rumours arose surrounding potential strikers arriving at Vicarage Road ahead of Watford’s return to the Premier League, the Hornets finally seem to have their desired central-forward force. Emmanuel Dennis was brought in as a speedy attacker able to compete for minutes both centrally and out wide. Cucho Hernandez looks likely to finally make his Vicarage Road debut after four seasons on loan in Spain. 19-year-old Joao Pedro will look to add to his bright start in English football following a nine-goal Championship campaign. Troy Deeney will still want to play a big role in the Hornets’ first season back in the top flight if fitness and form permits. However, Joshua King, Watford’s most recent signing, is the likeliest to be the Club’s most prolific central-forward.
King’s Path to Royalty
The 29-year-old started his career in his home nation of Norway with Valerenga before moving to Manchester United’s youth setup in 2008. He debuted for the Red Devils as a 17-year-old in 2009 in the EFL Cup. His other Manchester United senior-squad appearance came three seasons later in a Champions League clash against Galatasaray.
He earned loan moves to Preston, Borussia Monchengladbach, Hull City, and Blackburn before ultimately being sold permanently to the latter. His first full season with Blackburn (the 2013/14 campaign) saw King score twice and provide six assists in 31 appearances. After a lackluster following season, Bournemouth secured his signature in a free transfer upon their promotion to the Premier League.
The gamble on King proved to be a masterstroke. In the 2015/16 campaign, King scored seven times and tallied four assists across 35 matches in all competitions. The following season saw King win the 2017 Gullballen – the best Norwegian footballer award – by scoring 16 goals in the 2016/17 Premier League campaign. He tremendously outperformed his Xg statistic that season by a margin of 5.18 goals.
He outperformed his Xg statistic again the following season, scoring eight league goals as well as providing three assists. His 12 goals in the 2018/19 top-flight campaign were noteworthy despite his slight underperformance in regard to the Xg statistic. King contributed six goals and four assists in Bournemouth’s relegation season.
He did not accumulate many minutes in the 2020/21 campaign as he was actively seeking a move away and was injured for much of the first half of the season before Bournemouth offloaded him to Everton for funds/wage relief. Under Carlo Ancelotti, King was viewed as a depth player, making 11 substitute appearances.
Across 172 career Premier League appearances, King has scored 48 goals and averages one goal contribution per 194 minutes. Watford securing his services in a free transfer comes just one summer after Bournemouth rejected a £13.5 million bid from West Ham United (according to Adam Leventhal of The Athletic) for his signature. He has also made 54 appearances for Norway, scoring 17 times.
Reliable Goal-Scorer Who Provides New Dimensions to the Attack
King is a proven Premier League goal-scorer, yet he is not in the swan song of his career either. Despite his disappointing recent campaign, there were many external factors contributing to the lack of playing time. When fit and settled at Bournemouth, he was consistently reliable and a threat to opposition backlines. Two double-digit goal seasons and four Premier League seasons with double-digit goal contributions provide proof he should do at least “well enough” at Vicarage Road.
Unlike younger strikers, his ceiling for success is capped, though his floor is higher. And, for lack of better terms, Watford “know what they are going to get” with King. He is not going to be the one to shock everyone and score 20 goals, but if played with consistency, he will more than likely, at the very minimum, come close to double digits.
In a system with Ismaila Sarr to his right, King may very well find himself scoring 10+ times if played frequently. King provides a pacey attacking option. Watford will need to play counterattacking football on many occasions next season, and between Sarr and King (and even Dennis depending on the role he will play), there is more than enough pace and talent to pose a threat to any backline, especially on counterattacks. Such pace in the center of the attack will be pivotal in supporting Sarr when he makes his blistering runs forward, and King will be the man in the box to receive Sarr’s service – deliveries that cannot frequently happen with slower forwards incapable of outpacing the defense’s retreat.
King is also characterized by his ball-carrying ability, allowing for fluidity in the attack and forcing the opposition backline out of shape. Xisco Munoz’s wide-focused attacking tactics in the promotion campaign typically took the form of fullbacks making runs forward and lots of attacking movements starting along the touchline. King offers a new dimension to Watford’s wide play, as the wingers will now be able to make more diagonal runs infield when King forces backline disorganization rather than having to stick close to the byline to receive the ball. If Deeney returns to his talented form of old, King would provide a perfect complement in a strike partnership (as Deeney historically performs much better alongside a quick, talented-dribbling partner as opposed to being the lone forward).
Whether Xisco opts for center-forward rotation on a match-by-match basis or gives King consistent starts remains to be seen. If utilized correctly – which means frequent starts – King will likely prove to once more be a reliable goal-scorer capable of assisting a team to steer clear of the drop.