by Jeremy Walker
From Shellharbour Juniors to the Socceroos, Sky Blues fullback Joel King knows what it takes to reach the top of Australian football.
The Wollongong-born defender, who travelled with the Socceroos to the 2022 FIFA World Cup last November, has received four caps for Australia at only 22 years of age.
And with the Socceroos progressing in Qatar to the Round of 16 to face Argentina, photo opportunities came about with one of the best players of all time.
When I saw Messi I was like, ‘this is crazy!’ – Joel King
“I think half the team got a photo with him!” said King. “Somehow there was a lot of video of me and Marco [Tilio] getting photos with him.
“That was a good experience, obviously. It’s Lionel Messi! I’ve seen a lot of big players before and it’s cool, but when I saw Messi I was like, ‘this is crazy!’”
Leading up to the World Cup, King featured in Graham Arnold’s Olyroos side at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with Australia famously beating Argentina 2-0 in the group stages.
And with multiple Olyroos players eventually selected in the Socceroos squad which travelled to the World Cup in Qatar, King says Australia’s Olympic campaign proved key.
“We went into the Olympic campaign with no expectations,” King said. “I think that gave us a huge advantage coming up against Spain and Argentina, we were never expected to beat them or come to close to drawing with them.
“It was great, I was lucky enough to get an assist and we beat Argentina so it was a great experience. Obviously working with Arnie [Graham Arnold], I think that’s helped a lot with me going into the Socceroos after that.
“He’s seen how a lot of us young boys play, so it’s great going into the Socceroos with that knowledge. I think that’s the whole reason he took over the Olyroos, he wanted to bring in a few more new faces and bring some energy to the Socceroos, so I think that’s what he’s done.
“I think now he’s got a lot of faith in the young boys and he’s even bringing in players that didn’t go to the Olympics, so it’s really good and fortunate for me.”
Progressing on to the Socceroos after enjoying a successful Olympics campaign with the Olyroos, King would make his Australia national team debut in a 4-0 win over Vietnam last January.
And after impressing Graham Arnold in games leading up to the 2022 World Cup, King would earn a spot on the plane to Qatar.
“It was a crazy experience,” said King. “Much similar to the Olympics but on a whole other level.
“Like I said before, everyone would write us off, that’s just us being Australians. So just to go out and beat these big teams, it just feels great to just put it in their face!
“I didn’t play but I still learnt a lot, and to be involved in it was something I’ll never forget.”
Adding more moments to remember in Qatar with the Socceroos, King previously forged some memorable times with Sydney FC, with the left-back making his debut for the Sky Blues in the final regular season game of the 2018/19 season.
King then went on to sign his first professional contract with the club in May of 2019 after being promoted from the youth academy – going on to feature in 26 Isuzu UTE A-League matches in the 2019/20 campaign.
The fullback would help Sydney FC to claim the Premiership and Championship double that season – claiming the A-League Men Young Player of the Year award for his stellar campaign.
“It was a bit of a weird experience actually, come to think of it now,” King explained. “It was my first season and it was so hard to lose games!
“Even when we weren’t playing well we’d win games. So it’s a weird scenario looking back at it. We had a phenomenal team, there’s photos up in the gym and the changing rooms of that team.
“For my first season I had [Alex] Wilkinson to my right, playing centre-back next to me, and [Milos] Ninkovic in front of me, so if I couldn’t play in that team then there would’ve been a few dramas!
“I was really blessed to play with them players.”
The following season in 2020/21, King would start every league game (28), helping the Sky Blues to reach a third consecutive A-League Grand Final.
King would then impress again at the start of the 2021/22 campaign, earning a move to Danish Superliga side Odense Boldklub last January.
“As soon as I got there I was sort of thrown in the deep end,” said King. “I started playing straight away. I didn’t really expect it but I wasn’t complaining. It was very good, I played 10 or 15 games straight.
“I learnt a lot in the times that I played, it’s a very competitive competition over there. I think the main difference over there is that there’s relegation.
“Coming up against some of the bottom teams, you think they’re going to be easy but they want to win more than you do because if they don’t, they’re going to get relegated. So I thought that’s a whole different aspect to the game I’ve never seen before in Australia.”
Scheduled to return to Odense BK after completing his loan spell with Sydney FC at the end of this season, King remains focused on duties for the Sky Blues – enjoying his time at where it all started.
“Obviously I know a lot of the faces here and it’s a great environment we have here in Sydney,” King said.
“When I had the opportunity to come back here and get some minutes, I thought it’d be great, and obviously I know the coaching staff and the strength and conditioning staff.
“So I thought I’ll come back here, work my butt off, and I’ll see if I can get better and hopefully go back over and do well.”