For the latest instalment of ESPN's Socceroos Scouting Report, we're going to move away from midfielders and to another point of conjecture in the Australian national team -- left-back.
It's convenient for Joel King that his transfer from Sydney FC to Odense Boldklub has followed Aziz Behich's recent dip in form for Australia, but it is enough to warrant a starting place for Graham Arnold's side? And what would he really provide?
Despite an impressive 90 minutes on his Australian debut against Vietnam, his initial time in the Danish Superliga could provide a clearer insight on his ability to swim over time at international level -- especially with some rather important World Cup qualifiers coming up.
Next up for the Socceroos Scouting Report, Joel King. pic.twitter.com/ELsOGpKXLw— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) March 8, 2022
Now, the sample size is small. King has only played three games and accumulated 277 minutes -- including added time for the nit-pickers out there -- for De Stribede, so his best and worst attributes are arguably at extremes, given the relatively new exposure.
As a result, that King currently ranks third for possession adjusted interceptions and second for progressive passes per 90 respectively among full-backs in the Danish Superliga has to be taken with a pinch of salt. So too must his ranking at 39th for defensive duels per 90.
Still, there was a similar disparity between strong and weak points for King at left-back that was also represented in the data while he was at Sydney. As a relatively attacking full-back, he represents a trade-off in terms of both recruitment and tactics.The ultimate question will come in his ability to adapt once he becomes a known quantity, but the signs are ultimately positive at this stage. The main thing from King's perspective is that he has been able to show who he is in both footballing and statistical senses, and has initially done enough to stay in Andreas Alm's starting XI on a weekly basis.
For King and Australian football followers, it's encouraging that he has been able to quickly exhibit his two strongest characteristics in Europe with relative ease.
The first is his exceptional eye for a pass for a full-back, and compensates for the fact he isn't really going to carry the ball up from wide positions. King is relatively comfortable distributing the ball under pressure, passing into space to reset or switch play, or threading the needle into advanced areas. His assist for Max Fenger on the weekend against SonderjyskE was an ideal example of the latter.
Something he's immediately been able to transfer to Europe, he has an eye for a pass. This assist is a pretty good depiction of that. pic.twitter.com/sLZ6ol2XSU— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) March 8, 2022
The second is King's ability to pick off opposition passes and, in short time in Denmark, he has shown he is exceptional in that regard. To paraphrase Bill Russell, it's one thing to block a shot and send it into the stands, entirely another to block a shot and release the team into transition. One instance against FC Kobenhavn exhibited King's relatively good positioning, anticipation and committal towards the pass, but also to bring the ball under control quickly and release.
Another strength of his is the anticipation of and commitment towards the pass on the opposite side of the ball. pic.twitter.com/l7jLnTWXSZ— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) March 8, 2022
It wasn't just one isolated instance either. The 21-year-old can not only anticipate and get a body part onto passes, but at the very least minimise the threat of danger and get the ball into positions where the opposition can't immediately rebound. Best case scenarios mean his side can spring into attack.
Among a few more examples: pic.twitter.com/CIwdoSiF4t— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) March 8, 2022
It hasn't ever been a particularly strong suit of King's, but when the ball does eventually get to his opposing attacker, his one-on-one defending is frankly a problem area. Given the relative jump in playing level, it is an area he will be exposed in if there is no tangible improvement. Unless he suddenly becomes an Australian answer to Marcelo, what he provides the collective in possession will likely have diminishing returns in the eyes of coaches and this will remain his ceiling in Europe.
Although he provided an assist on the other end, it was again evident in multiple instances on the weekend against SonderjyskE. Whether it's on the approach when needing to cover ground and close down, or when the attacker receives the ball on their heels, King's tendency to plant his feet hard and overcommit to one side in setting himself creates a domino effect -- in the event he can't cut the pass off to begin with.
This needs refinement, though. pic.twitter.com/gyPVPbWsbN— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) March 8, 2022
What it does is dramatically impact his lateral quickness and ability to change direction, meaning the attacker needs little more than a feint or drop of the shoulder to create separation from him, which then means a second defender has to provide help or the attacker simply has room to do too much damage.
Potential Socceroos fit
With upcoming fixtures against Japan and Saudi Arabia going to decide Australia's World Cup qualification fate, it would be an uncharacteristically brave call on Arnold's part to start King over the incumbent Behich at this stage.
However, it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable to do it, and there are pros and cons to the discussion. King's strengths are as obvious as his flaws, much like Behich, but there's enough to suggest in isolation and at the very least, the 21-year-old belongs at international level.