Taiwo Awoniyi: New Lease of Life

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His season-long loan to KAA Gent may have spelt doom after failing to score a single goal, culminating in another loan move to Genk. Taiwo Awoniyi seems to have found a new lease of life as he was named in the Belgium Team of the Week

Royal Excel Mouscron striker Taiwo Awoniyi was included in the Belgium First Division Team of the Week for the fourth-time running, the last following his impressive performances in a matchday 27 fixture after he was on target in 1-0 victory against Lokeren last weekend.

The Nigerian striker has scored five goals and contributed two assists in his last six starts.

Awoniyi struggled for game time and was poor in front of goal when he was initially loaned to Royal Excel Mouscron Belgian rivals KAA Gent before a switch on the winter transfer window.

The Nigerian striker led the attack in the Team of the Week provided by Belgian media outfit Voetbalkrant.

Awoniyi has made the previous Team of the Week as now made it four consecutive starts selected among the best in Belgium.

After Nigerian’s unimpressive performance at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Awoniyi stood out of the lot and immediately became the toast of most European clubs and he never hid his pleasure to play at the Stanford Bridge. 

Swedish club Kalmar had tied up an agreement to sign Awoniyi when he clocks 18 on August 12, 2015, after his scintillating performance for the Golden Eaglets at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup held in the United Arab Emirates caught the attention of scouts representing several European teams.

To prevent trafficking of underage players from the third world, as FIFA transfer rules prevent clubs from signing footballers yet to reach the age of maturity.

And it was that watertight regulation that has prevented Awoniyi from signing a professional contract.

Kalmar coaches believed they had a jewel in their hands and the young Nigerian trained with the first team on his arrival in Scandinavia.

Before the product of Imperial Academy decided to pitch tent at the Guldfageln Arena, he was courted by Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica.

However, Kalmar FF has admitted that the club could lose the Nigerian even before he signs a contract in August.

Other clubs believed to be chasing Awoniyi then are FC Porto, Celtic and Red Bull Salzburg as well as Esperance of Tunisia, whose officials stormed the Flying Eagles training camp in Germany to try and convince the 17-year-old striker to sign for them.

“I’m still a free player, but I hope my future will be decided before the World Cup,” Awoniyi disclosed to FIFA.com.

Manchester United were also reported to have courted the attacker, with one of their representatives speaking directly with him but the interest from Old Trafford has waned due to uncertainty surrounding his registration rights.

On 31 August 2015, Taiwo signed for Liverpool for a fee of around £400,000 but was immediately loaned out to FSV Frankfurt and only made his debut the following year.

In August 2016, he went on another loan spell to NEC Nijmegen and it was another loan spell the following year to Royal Excel Mouscron, scoring nine goals in 16 matches.

On 17 July 2018 he signed a new long-term deal with Liverpool and on 23 July, sealed a season-long loan to another Belgian club, KAA Gent, failing to score a single goal and in January this year, it was announced that his loan to Genk was cut short and Awoniyi was loaned to Mouscron again.

Awoniyi, however, showed early signs of returning to the top scoring form he had with the club last season, as he made the best of his second debut with a well-taken goal for the club.

Awoniyi is back at Mouscron, after an ill-fated loan spell with fellow-Belgian top-flight side, KAA Gent in the first half of the season and the ex-youth international showed his quality with aplomb.

He put aside the woes he faced at Gent to romp home Mousconr’s match-winner against KV Oostende.

Awoniyi, who hit nine league goals for Mouscron last season, scored on Sunday in the 68th minute after getting off the bench in the 64th earlier.

Though Awoniyi failed to score a single league goal in 16 appearances with Gent, the product of Imperial Football Academy of Odogbolu, Ogun State has hit the ground running back on familiar hunting ground.

His effort helped Mouscron snatch a 2-1 home win that took them up to 14th on the table with 20 points from 22 matches, six points clear of relegation spot and Awoniyi’s reaction was overwhelming.

“I am extremely happy to start so well in my first game back at Royal and that my goal helped us win this important match,” Awoniyi posted.

Late Super Eagles Coach Stephen Keshi once gave the U-20 striker the green light to lead the Super Eagles to attack with the hope that he can bring his eye for goal to the senior team. 

“I gave Awoniyi his first call up to the Super Eagles sometimes ago because I know that he has the quality of a goal poacher who can deliver the goals when needed, but playing for the age-grade national teams is different from the Super Eagles.

“Awoniyi is young and talented and has the quality of a good striker. So who says he can’t lead the Eagles attack? He just needs to be ready for the task and show it on the field of play which I believe the boy is capable of doing,” Keshi had said.

However, Taiwo’s father, Solomon said he used to beat his son to discourage him from playing football, but that he never knew Taiwo would play football to global level.

He said the football career of his son started during his elementary school days, noting that he (Taiwo) would always disappear from the house to play football and the whole family would be looking for him.

Awoniyi praised the efforts of Taiwo’s coach, Rasaq Olojo, whom he said discovered and nurtured him.

He said the striker was part of the team that participated in a Coca Cola competition in Ibadan, which later earned him a trip to London in 2010, where former Nigerian football stars Nduka Ugbade and Seyi Olofinjana, spotted him in a competition Awoniyi was voted the most valuable player and came home with the award from London in 2010.