Joel King: Europe was the one thing on my mind

It’s a common thing to think about your dreams, hopes, and goals when you’re growing up. As a child you’ll think about your dream career, or your perfect family, or some other life goal you imagine yourself in when you’re all grown up.

For young footballers, it is the same with dreams of pulling on the national team jersey, fantasies of scoring the winning goal in a World Cup match, thoughts of lifting the trophy with your favourite club.

There are so many dreams and wishes that young footballers can have, but there is one constant when it comes to the ambitions of future professional footballers growing up in Australia: almost without exception, each one wants to play in Europe.

Joel King is no exception. Growing up in the Illawarra region, the youngster spent the night dreaming about scoring goals in Europe before spending his Saturday mornings scoring goals for Shellharbour Juniors.

While he never let go of that dream, as he became older his thoughts were more preoccupied with earning a place in Sydney FC’s first team until a presentation by Graham Arnold brought it right back to the forefront of his mind.

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Speaking on the Socceroos Podcast: Aussies Abroad Edition, King spoke about a presentation that impacted his mentality going into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“I went to an Olyroos camp in Canberra at the end of 2019 and Arnie gave us stats from the most recent men’s team that represented Australia at the Olympics,” said King.

“The stats showed that over 80% of the team went from playing for Australia, to playing overseas. So when I saw that I thought that if I ever get the chance to play in the Olympics then I would hope to go to Europe after that.”

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Now at that stage the 19-year-old defender had not been involved in any of the qualifying or warm-up tournaments for the Olyroos. Despite having attended training camps, he had yet to earn selection in a matchday squad for the U23 national team.

To many, the non-selection could affect their self-confidence – not just about making it into the Olympic squad, but in becoming a professional footballer altogether.

But not King, while other players in his age group were travelling with junior national teams and representing their country: he was focussed on breaking into the Sydney FC first team and earning regular minutes.

His focus paid off very quickly, with King becoming a mainstay in Sydney FC’s backline. With Arnold looking to select in-form players, King had a big advantage having played a total of 55 first team games and 4,439 senior minutes by the time it came around to select the final squad.

“I didn't go to the qualifiers. I was fortunate in how I managed to not go to many of the tournaments but then work my way into the Olympic squad,” said King.

To call it fortunate is modest as he earned his selection on merit, as his achievements – including a Socceroos cap – since that moment has proven. Regardless of how he felt about his selection, King had one thing on his mind as he travelled to Toyko.

“When my selection in the Olympics ended up becoming a reality there was pretty much one thing on my mind: if I could get to Europe.

“Fortunately, it all panned out and I'm here now.”

Following a strong performance at the Olympics, continued form for Sydney FC, and a berth in the starting XI for the Socceroos in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier, King very quickly had his ticket to Europe.

The destination was Denmark, as Odense BK triggered a release clause in his Sky-Blue contract, propelling King straight into the starting line-up for his first two matches against Superliga giants, Copenhagen and Midtjylland.

Talk about a dream come true.