It has been six years since Taiwo Awoniyi arrived on Merseyside with the hope of a long, illustrious career in Europe.d
Liverpool spent £400,000 to bring the striker to Anfield from Imperial Academy in his homeland of Nigeria. But, due to work permit rules, Awoniyi was unable to secure the rights to be able to play for the Reds.
Six years on and seven loan moves later, with the new work permit rules that have been established in British football due to Brexit, the Nigerian is finally eligible to play in the UK.
How did the Reds spot Awoniyi?
Scouts from the recruitment team spotted Awoniyi playing in the u20 World Cup for his national side in New Zealand. He had trials with Swedish outfit Kalmar FF, playing two u21 games for the club, before interest from Liverpool caught his attention and he made the switch to Merseyside.
As a teenager he came to the attention of scouts across the continent when he won the u17 World Cup with the Super Eagles. Club officials brought him to Merseyside with high hopes – high hopes that he holds himself. When Awoniyi signed for the club he said: “I’ll try to develop myself… so that I can add value to the team.”
The scouting team has a very good record, especially in recent years, of acquiring top talents for small fees. Those at Melwood at the time will have had hopes of the same thing for the young Nigerian.
Things may have not worked out in the way things had been planned for the u17 World Cup winner, but now he has that opportunity to show his talents to Jürgen Klopp and the rest of the coaching staff at Kirby.
Early loan moves
Loan transfers have their benefits of being allowing players to develop and gain first team experience elsewhere. However, with Awoniyi, loan moves have been necessary in order for him to secure his work permit and to become eligible to play for the Anfield based club.
When he first arrived at Anfield his inexperience meant a work permit was inaccessible and that a series of loan moves was necessary in order to gain one. As soon as his transfer was complete, he was on his way to Germany to complete a loan move to Bundesliga 2. side FSV Frankfurt.
The first spell of senior football on the continent wasn’t the most fruitful for the Super Eagles forward but he gained valuable experience, playing 14 times and scoring his first professional goal.
After being unable to secure a work permit and in further search of first team experience, all parties agreed that a loan move to the Eredivisie with NEC Nijmegen was suitable for Awoniyi’s development.
Game time was more regular for the Nigerian forward in Holland. He featured 22 times in the Dutch top flight managing to score on just three occasions. The loan move didn’t end happily either with Nijmegen being relegated to the second division via the play offs.
Brilliance in Belgium
After rather disappointing loan spells in Germany and Holland, Awoniyi made the trip across the Belgian-Dutch border, ahead of the 2017/18 season, and joined Jupiler Pro League outfit Royal Excel Mouscron.
The Ilorin-born forward found his feet in his first loan spell in Belgium playing 31 times across all competitions. He also found some of the form that brought him to Merseyside, managing an impressive 10 goals and eight assists for Mouscron. This impressive form attracted attention from Belgium’s bigger clubs.
This successful loan move prompted a step up to KRC Gent and handed the Nigerian his first taste of European football. The step up, however, didn’t exactly work out as planned.
Awoniyi struggled in his spell with the three time Belgian cup winners, and was unable to recapture the form that landed him is temporary switch to the Belgian giants. He played 22 times and managed four goals – a drop off from the excellent vein of form with Mouscron. This move was cut short as a result, so Liverpool agreed with former club Mouscron that he should return on loan for the rest of the 2018/19 season.
The Nigerian excelled once again with the north Belgium club. On his return he managed the best scoring run of his career: he scored 11 goals in just 16 appearances with Mouscron, managing three assists too. This impressive end to the season attracted interest from Europe’s top five leagues when another work permit was declined for the Reds.
Back to the Bundesliga
Liverpool were left with the option of cashing in on his great form or sending the Nigerian out on another loan spell. They went with the latter option and, amid interest from Europe’s top five leagues, he made the return to Germany and joined up with Klopp’s former club Mainz 05.
In his first taste of top five league action, Awoniyi didn’t have the best of times. He struggled to get any real run of games in the side and found minutes arriving regularly from the bench, as he couldn’t displace Robin Quaison and Jean-Philippe Mateta. The Nigerian u23 international played 13 times – seven of which came from the bench, and scored on just one occasion.
After this loan spell, the u17 World Cup winner pondered his future with the Reds and, in an interview with ESPN said he may need to consider his options.
The Nigerian said: “It’s my dream to play for Liverpool, but without [a work permit] there is no chance of me playing for Liverpool for now.”
“I was hoping to leave permanently in the summer,” he later added.
Despite hoping for a permanent move away, both parties agreed to try a loan move one more time with the hope of securing a work permit. Union Berlin were quickest to the table and the Nigerian signed with the club for the 2020/21 season.
He has enjoyed a rather successful spell with the Berliners, scoring five goals and assisting a further three on the way to an unlikely European push. With one game to go, he could potentially help Union qualify for the Europa Conference League next season.
His great form – eight goal contributions in 20 appearances – along with the post-Brexit reforms for work permits, has finally seen Awoniyi successful in his work permit application and, at the age of 23, he is finally eligible to play for the Reds.
What’s next for Awoniyi and Liverpool?
Awoniyi, 23, is now at a stage in his career where he probably has to think about what is the best for his career. After seven loan spells, he now has the opportunity to experience English football first-hand. Going into next season, with international competitions, it is likely he will feature in pre-season with Klopp’s men and live his dream of playing for Liverpool.
The Nigerian will surely have goals of playing for his national team for the first time and may be forced into a decision to decide where will be the best place to achieve that goal. Neil Jones of Goal.com reported there are a handful of teams interested in his services. Wolfsburg, Union Berlin and Stuttgart are all potential suitors from Germany and, in England, West Brom, Stoke and Fulham are all apparently interested.
Another move is likely for Awoniyi, whether it be another on loan or permanent, but before then he has the opportunity to fulfil that six-year long dream of making his Liverpool debut.
It’s a situation to watch for the future, but it is positive news for the Nigerian to be finally handed his work permit.
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