Taiwo Awoniyi worked under Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, before becoming a derby hero with Union Berlin. bundesliga.com profiles the Nigerian goal-getter...
Awoniyi left Liverpool without making a first-team appearance, largely due to work permit issues. Having signed for Klopp’s side at 18, two years after lifting the 2013 U17 FIFA World Cup with Nigeria, the 6'1" forward was immediately sent on loan to Bundesliga 2 outfit FSV Frankfurt. One goal in 13 league appearances followed, but FSV suffered relegation to the third tier that year, and Awoniyi spent the subsequent five seasons farmed out to NEC Nijmegen, Mouscron, Gent, Mainz and Union. He followed up a then career-best 21 goals in 47 outings for Mouscron with one in 12 Bundesliga games for Mainz and five in 21 during an injury-interrupted stint with Union, whom he joined on a permanent deal in summer 2021.
Watch: The rise of Taiwo Awoniyi
Awoniyi kicked off 2021/22 by scoring in three successive Bundesliga matches. He hit his first Bundesliga brace against ex-employers Mainz, and earned a place in Berlin derby folklore with his goal in a 2-0 win over city rivals Hertha. By the time he left to link up with Nigeria at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, the right-footed frontman had produced nine Hinrunde goals. Further efforts against Mainz, VfB Stuttgart and favourite opponents Cologne (three goals in four meetings) took him onto 17 Bundesliga strikes in Union colours, and past former teammate Max Kruse as the club's record scorer in the German top flight. He finished with a single-season personal best of 15 goals in 31 league games for 2021/22, and 20 in all competitions when the DFB Cup and UEFA Europa Conference League are included. The bustling frontman rounded off the campaign in style on the final day, hitting two goals in a 3-2 victory over Bochum. His late winner in that game sealed a club-high fifth-place finish for Union.
Watch: The Berlin derby explained
Plays a bit like: Divock Origi
Awoniyi has been likened to the late Rashidi Yekini, Nigeria's record 37-goal marksman. He also has explosive power, a poacher's instinct and cool head in common with former Wolfsburg striker Divock Origi. The pair crossed paths at Liverpool, whom Origi helped win the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League. It's possible they were simply too alike to play in the same side but once Awoniyi had been granted a UK work permit, he'd already had his head turned by Union.
"From the director to the coaches to the players, they're really friendly guys and friendly people at Union," Awoniyi told bundesliga.com. "We stay together as a family. I think anyone who comes into this kind of atmosphere will enjoy it. We love doing what [head coach Urs Fischer] is doing, and that was what integrated me into the team quite early. For a coach to take you in, sit you down, tell you what he wants, what he expects of you, and joke with you, to work with you, this is what a parent does to their children. Everything he has done is what my father also did to me."
Did you know?
Even if Awoniyi hadn't been so enamoured with Union, Klopp's words of wisdom would likely have tipped the scales.
"He said the move was a good thing because he felt like everyone at Union wanted to sign me," the Nigerian recalled of a conversation with the Liverpool head coach at the team's summer 2021 training camp in Austria. "He told me that's the most important thing for a young player."
What they're saying
"His robustness, his dedication and his unconditional willingness to learn and develop were the deciding factors for us to give everything to make this transfer happen." - Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert on bringing Awoniyi to Berlin
"One of the things we noticed about him was his height, he was really tall for his age. His mental attitude also stood out. Taiwo played like his life depended on it. He had that never-say-die attitude and he was working really hard, so we thought, 'why not?!'" - Imperial Soccer Academy chief Atiba Bankole on recruiting a 13-year-old Awoniyi
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