Taiwo Awoniyi: Another Loan Spell Looms

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Taiwo Awoniyi’s dream of re-launching his career when he joined Bundesliga side, Mainz on loan in the summer did not go as expected as he struggled for game time. With just six appearances and only one start, another loan spell is on the horizon with Greek giants Olympiacos among those keen to cash-in on the Nigerian this winter transfer 

Taiwo Awoniyi has struggled for game time at Mainz and Liverpool are therefore likely to end the Nigerian’s loan with Bundesliga side this month, with the Nigerian striker the subject of interest from a host of European clubs.

The 22-year-old had hoped to shine when moving to Germany last summer, but has made just six appearances for the Bundesliga strugglers.

Only one of those was from the start, and Awoniyi was substituted at half-time in that game with Mainz down to 10 men away at Fortuna Dusseldorf. The forward has managed only 150 minutes in total for his club this term.

With Jean-Philippe Mateta, Mainz’s main striker, having returned to action just before the winter break, it is anticipated that Awoniyi will find it even harder to get regular football in the second half of the campaign.

Liverpool have the option to terminate the loan agreement, but will not do so unless a clear opportunity for game-time arises. They have not been short of interest, with Greek giants Olympiacos among those keen.

Ligue 1 trio Montpellier, Brest and Nimes are also understood to be monitoring the situation, while Turkish outfit Besitas and La Liga duo of Leganes and Real Mallorca have also made enquiries.

Liverpool intend to meet with interested parties in the coming days, but are aware that Awoniyi would ideally prefer to remain in Germany.

The Nigerian U-23 international joined the Reds in 2015 but has since spent his time out on loan, with the club unable to secure a UK work permit.

Spells at FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen and Gent failed to work out, but Awoniyi was impressive in two stints with Belgian outfit Mouscron. He scored 10 goals in 28 appearances during the 2017-18 campaign, then returned for the second half of last season and netted 11 times in 15 games. 

Liverpool had fielded interest from across Europe last summer, and had intended to take him on their three-game tour of the USA in July, as back-up to Divock Origi and Rhian Brewster. 

But he suffered a thigh injury a week before he was due to report for pre-season scuppered that plan. Awoniyi did not return to full training until mid-August, by which time Mainz had added Adam Szalai, the veteran Hungary striker, to their squad. Szalai, 32, has remained ahead in the pecking order, despite scoring just once in 14 Bundesliga appearances.

Mainz return to league action at home to Freiburg today, but the expectation at Anfield is that Awoniyi is unlikely to remain at the club until the end of the season. The question now is simply which proposal offers the best chance of regular football.

Awoniyi claimed that he had been assured of a future at Anfield and had been described as an ‘amazing talent’ behind the scenes and that it was Jurgen Klopp himself who encouraged him to choose Mainz over a number of rival suitors. But in a season full of positives for Liverpool, the struggles of their highly-rated young striker has been a real disappointment.

Six games, one start and no goals; it’s fair to say Mainz expected a lot more from a striker who apparently has a  £10 million price-tag on his head.

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And, with last season’s top scorer Mateta returning from injury before the Christmas break, Awoniyi may have played his final game for Achim Beierlorzer’s side.

“He is a very young player who has athleticism, speed and a good shot, everything you need. But you don’t play because you have everything, but because you are effective, I have to make that clear,” a clearly baffled Beierlorzer told Kicker, explaining why he has been reluctant to give Awoniyi a chance.

After helping Nigeria to win the U-17 World Cup in 2013 with a splendid performance, observers were of the opinion that the Super Eagles have a future in Adeniyi. It indeed came as no surprise when English Premier League club, Liverpool, signed him two years later. However, his seventh loan spell looms with his Mainz and a senior national team place is still far between.

However, in spite of having spent the last four seasons away from Anfield and yet to make an appearance for the club, Awoniyi was last year handed an improved contract by the management of Liverpool.

“I feel excited and I feel very happy. When I was told about the contract I was so eager to get it done, to move onto the next stage, going out on loan or being a Liverpool player,” Awoniyi told Liverpool’s official website then.

“My ambition is to work hard wherever I find myself and hopefully be a better player.”

The Nigerian striker has since enjoyed loan stints with FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen, Royal Excel Mouscron (twice) and KAA Gent and Mainz last summer for a sixth loan spell since he joined Liverpool in 2015 and a seventh is expected the winter transfer.

The 21-year-old, who is yet to play a competitive game for Liverpool, spent last season at Belgian side Mouscron, scoring 14 goals in 38 appearances.

In April, he admitted his inability to get a UK work permit could derail his hopes of playing for Liverpool, expressing his sadness at being unable to feature for Klopp’s men.

“It saddens my heart that it’s been difficult to get a work permit for the past four years,” he said.

“At the end of the season, we have to go back to Liverpool to discuss. Everyone knows the importance of the work permit and how it works, and that you’d need to play for your national team. If you don’t get a chance with your national team then it becomes difficult to get it.”

The youngster’s struggles to obtain a work permit come as a result of the difficulties non-EU players face, with footballing hopefuls first needing to demonstrate their worth on the international stage, something Awoniyi is yet to do with Nigeria. 

Such issues haven’t dampened his hopes for the future though, insisting he chose to join to Premier League outfit due to his love of the English game. 

He added: “Personally, I chose Liverpool because I would love to play in the English Premier League for Liverpool. If God says it will happen then it will, but if not then I can only go on with my life and career.

“Going from Germany to Holland and to Belgium was a big career move for me as a player. My thanks to Liverpool for that. It helped me a lot to develop more as a player. At the moment, I don’t have a work permit. I’ll go on loan again and keep on working hard as much as I can.” 

With the likes of Olympiakos, Montpellier, Real Mallorca and Leganes are allegedly lining up to offer the Nigerian international another chance away from Anfield and Liverpool will be hoping that his next loan spell goes rather better.

His first loan stint was at German second-tier club FSV Frankfurt in the 2015/16 campaign then Dutch side NEC Nijmegen the following season in order to attract interest from national selectors and gain a work permit.

For non-EU players to be granted a work permit, they must demonstrate they are an international player of “the highest calibre.”

This means they must have played in 75 per cent of a FIFA top-50 ranked national team’s matches over the previous two years.

Awoniyi, who helped his country win the U-17 World Cup in 2013, is currently part of Nigeria’s under-23 side vying for a ticket to the 2020 Olympics football event in Tokyo.

After representing the country at all levels, the product of Imperial Academy is still hoping for a chance at senior level.

He played at the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, scoring twice and then helped Nigeria win the 2015 African U-23 Championship in Senegal.

However, he missed out on playing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in spite of being selected by Nigeria for their 35-man provisional squad.

In 2010, Taiwo was voted the Most Valuable Player at a Coca-Cola football competition in London. His performance at the competition was spotted by Olofinjana who made him join Imperial Soccer Academy.