Taiwo Awoniyi had a lot of expectations placed on him when he joined Liverpool in 2015.
The Nigerian joined Liverpool at the age of 18 after impressing in the U20 World Cup in New Zealand, but issues with work permits forced the youngster to spend most of his time with the Reds away on various loans. At a time when Liverpool really needed a young dedicated striker, the impressive one we had just signed wasn’t able to fulfill those expectations. Loan spells took Awoniyi to FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen, Mouscron (twice), Gent, Mainz and, finally, to Union Berlin - with Berlin signing him on a permanent contact in 2021.
Awoniyi had a prolific season with Berlin, scoring 20 goals in 43 appearances, that caught the attention of Nottingham Forest and affording him his chance to return to the Premier League. The striker joined Forest for the 2022-23 campaign and scored 11 goals to help ensure the club’s spot in the Premier League for this season.
Liverpool were able to catch up with Awoniyi ahead of their meeting on Sunday October 29, and reflect on the long journey back to the Premier League for the striker, despite never getting to play senior football for the Reds.
“For me, going through all those clubs and all those stages, it was all with the aim of one day being back in the Premier League,” Awoniyi said. “I think in the end it was worth it, but I can say it was a tough journey.
“Liverpool, I always say, is a family club. You develop as a person as well as a footballer, and I give so much credit to Liverpool for the way they looked after me, all the time I was away. I’m forever grateful for that.
“It was an important period, really good for me, and it was a big reason I was able to develop into the player and the person I have.”
The striker, now 26, wasn’t completely frozen out of the senior squad, as he speaks highly of training under Jürgen Klopp and at the Austrian preseason camp in 2021, but also recognizing that competition was stiff for his position.
“I remember telling my family that for sure Liverpool was going to win the league,” Awoniyi continued. “And that year they went on to almost win everything.
“The training sessions, wow! I knew that this is the kind of training that you win something from! You don’t train like that and then at the end of the season you get nothing.
“For me as a player, that was the kind of environment I had always wanted. But in life sometimes you have to make tough decisions, and I knew for me that I needed to go and play every week.
“You look at the time, there was [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mane, [Roberto] Firmino and others. I knew the chances [to play] were very, very slim. I knew I needed to get to a place where I was playing every week. It was hard [to leave], but it was a decision I had to make.”
The decision to find full time football away from Merseyside has definitely paid off, finally enjoying a regular spot with Nottingham Forest under former Liverpool Academy coach Steve Cooper.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve worked under,” said the 26-year-old. “The way he goes about things, the way he speaks to players, and the confidence he gives to the players.
“We had a lot of pressure last season, but you could see in his eyes that he always believed, he knew we were going to stay up. That’s what every player wants from their manager. He gives you the belief that you can really get to the peak of your career, if you are ready to work for him and go for it.”
And the challenges of the Premier League?
“I have learned so much in my time in England already, and improved so much,” Awoniyi adds.
“The Premier League is different from everywhere else. It is a league where you have to always be ready, physically, technically and mentally.
“You can’t have anxieties in the Premier League, you have to be there every week, 100 per cent, because there are so many strong teams, strong players. The level is so high. Every team is a big club, a team that can easily beat you. That is what sets it apart from the other leagues. The challenge every single week is huge.”