Union Berlin's Taiwo Awoniyi: a Liverpool loanee and rising star
Union Berlin are once again surpassing all expectations in their second ever season in the Bundesliga, with recent signing Taiwo Awoniyi one of the main reasons they lie fifth in the table.
The Nigerian has five goals already for his new club, and seems to be getting more potent every week. bundesliga.com examines the impact the on-loan Liverpool striker has made…
Union enjoyed a brilliant first year in the German top flight in 2019/20, beating Borussia Dortmund early on and securing a comfortable 11th-placed finish.
This season, though, has been even better. Urs Fischer's side lost just twice before Christmas, and Max Kruse in particular impressed with six goals and five assists. Another new arrival has stood out in recent weeks, however, with Awoniyi netting five times in his last seven Bundesliga matches.
Watch: Check out Awoniyi's goals in 2020/21
The big frontman has done a good impression of last season's top goalscorer for Union - Swedish striker Sebastian Andersson - by winning aerial battles, holding the ball up well, and bringing his teammates into play.
After getting a goal and an assist in the Matchday 14 win at Werder Bremen, Awoniyi says his focus is on helping the team first.
"For me it's always about the team," he told bundesliga.com. "Always fighting, working, doing everything for the team. And for a striker, I believe once you put that first, the rest of the things will come."
The 23-year-old has had a nomadic career since featuring alongside Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho and scoring four goals as Nigeria won the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup.
After winning the African U20 Championships he joined Liverpool in August 2015, but since then he has had seven loan moves in three different countries. Not all of them have been as successful as Awoniyi would have liked, with injury problems playing their part.
The first switch saw Awoniyi feature for FSV Frankfurt in Bundesliga 2 in 2015/16, but it was two spells at Belgian top-flight side Royal Excel Mouscron that really showcased his potential. He finished with nine league goals in 2017/18, before getting 11 goals in 16 matches when he rejoined them for the second half of the 2018/19 campaign.
Awoniyi scored once in 12 appearances on loan at Mainz last season, when he only made five starts and sometimes played on the wing. On the lookout for a replacement for Andersson, though, Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert was certain that the Nigeria U23 international could flourish in the German capital.
"With his physical robustness, his team spirit and work around the box, he should make our attacking game more flexible and further stimulate the attack," Ruhnert said when Awoniyi arrived at Union in mid-September.
The new No. 14 was thrown into the starting line-up straightaway as "Iron Union" gave an indication of what was to come by drawing 1-1 at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
That was the start of a nine-match unbeaten run for Fischer's team. Kruse hogged most of the headlines with some stunning performances following his return to the Bundesliga, but Awoniyi began grabbing them too.
The Nigerian's recent scoring run started with the opener in the 2-1 success at Andersson's new club Cologne on Matchday 8. Since then, he has scored all manner of goals: right foot, left foot, headers, fox-in-the-box style finishes.
If Awoniyi was looking for a place to call home after constantly changing clubs, he may well have found it. He has repeatedly praised the atmosphere at Union, describing Fischer as "like a father" and fellow striker Anthony Ujah as his "Nigerian big brother."
"Everyone is important here, from the first to the last person at the club," he said after the win over Cologne.
Awoniyi, though, has become increasingly important himself over the past couple of months. Ujah has been a long-term injury absentee, while attackers Kruse and Joel Pohjanpalo have been on the sidelines since early December and the middle of November respectively.
Awoniyi has not been found wanting in their absence. Three of his latest goals have been part of winning causes, against Cologne, Dortmund, and then Bremen.
As well as rolling up his sleeves and doing dirty work on the road, he has also come up with big goals on his travels. Between the end of November and the start of January, the Nigerian was on target in four consecutive away games - including in the derby against Hertha Berlin.
It all points to a maturing player who is enjoying the environment he is working in.
At Union, Awoniyi says, it's "all about family." Settled, confident, and regularly on the scoresheet, the in-form striker is becoming a key member of one.
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