Striker Taiwo Awoniyi who is on a season-loan to FSV Mainz 05 from Liverpool took some time off to share his experience in football.
Not that he expected it to be same. Kwara, in Northern Nigeria is quite hot and humid around this time of the year, unlike the hazy and bitter cold winds of Germany.
Taiwo Awoniyi has come a long way in a short space of time in his fledgling career. Plucked from the dusty streets of Nigeria by Liverpool via the Imperial Football Academy.
The Nigerian forward joined the Reds way back in summer 2015, but is yet to feature for Liverpool as he’s been unable to secure a work permit to play in the Premier League.
And having been sent on a number of loans – the 22-year-old now counts spells at FSV Frankfurt, Royal Excel Mouscron (twice) and Gent on his CV – the player was this summer sent to Bundesliga side Mainz.
He is one of most exciting prospects as he continues to build up his reputation as a future star for Liverpool and Nigeria.
Kwara Sports Arena caught up with Awoniyi who spoke about his progress and his aspirations for first team football in the English top flight.
Where you were born and raised?
Awoniyi: I was born and raised in Kwara State, Ilorin precisely. Am an indigene of Olla, Isin local government, Igbomina.
How did your football career started?
Awoniyi: It was all dream come true. I was just a young boy, growing and hoping for a better future. God made it all possible. I started playing from my Nursery School days (Adetunji Nursery/ Primary School
) and always played street football in my area.
I later joined a football club Brown Star, now known as United Academy Football Club. We trained at Sheikh Abdulquadril College, with a well respected man Abdulrasak Olojo who nurtured us all as kids and taught us a lot in life.
I played lots of youth tournament football for Kwara during the Ysfon days at different states then. I was selected for a Copa Coca-Cola tournament in London in 2011. I joined Seyi Olofinjana’sImperial Soccer Academy. It was from there I got called to the Nigeria U15 team and that’s how it all started.
Did your parents supported the decision to take football as a career?
Awoniyi: It was actually really difficult. With the situation of getting football kits and all. My dad was a civil servant, now retired Prison Officer and Mum was a trader.
My dad’s goal was for all his children to study to University level, as his earning was not enough to pay for every fee.He was forced to lend money and pay back in double to cater for our school fees.
How did you get to Seyi Olofinjana’s Academy?
I was just home and got a call from a coach Wasiu Lawal, who was working there at that time. He asked if I would like to go to the Academy for trial. I went there with my JAMB fee I just collected from my dad. Following a two-week trial, I made the cut.
How you get to Liverpool?
Awoniyi: It was after the U20 World Cup in New Zealand. I played a game for the U23 in Zambia, where I scored two goals that qualified the team then. The next week I got a call from Seyi Olofinjana that he was on his way to Liverpool. I was told they’ve been monitoring my progress from the U17.
How much were you signed by Liverpool?
Awoniyi: It was around £400,000 between the two club with other potential agreement between both parties.
You have been playing on loan since you joined Liverpool. Are you satisfied or disappointed?
Awoniyi: Am satisfied for the player I have become during all my loan spells as this made me grow and developed well as a player. On the other hand, it hasn’t been easy adapting to different environment.
You were ignored by the past Kwara State Government when they were honouring legends in the state. How do you feel about this development?
Awoniyi: Not at all. Just hoping for the growth and development of Kwara. That’s the most important.
As a young player then, did you ever dreamt of donning the colours of Liverpool?
Awoniyi: I was just a boy that loved playing football and watching football And hoping for a better future but all thanks to God how it seems right now. No one believed it will turn out this way.
You have been compared with late Rashidi Yekini. Is he your role model?
Awoniyi: I always say, the Late Rashidi Yekini is someone that has done great things for his country. May his soul Rest In Peace. I just hope and wish am able to create my own version of Awoniyi Taiwo and be the best I can as a player.
Who’s your model?
Awoniyi: I love Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, Edison Cavani and Didier Drogba.
Are you planning to leave Liverpool?
Awoniyi: Well with football, lots of things are involved. Liverpool had the chance of making profit on me this year as they got offers much better than what they purchased me with. But they chose not to sell me. We will see what happens in future.
Would you love to play for the Super Eagles and what qualities can you bring to the team if you are handed a call up?
Awoniyi: Playing for the National Team is a dream for all young players and it will be an honour for me to achieve that dream. Nigeria is blessed with talents. From the U17 to the Super Eagles. I belief either me or anyone added to the team will add value.
Apart from Liverpool, which other club do you wish to join in future?
Awoniyi: I just love English football and German League. But to be the best I can be, I will have to go to a place that is expected add value to me as human and keep enjoying my football.
How significant was Jurgen Klopp in your move to FSV Mainz 05?
He sent me a text and wished me goodluck at Mainz. He was aware of the move.
Any plans by Liverpool to apply for a Work Permit.
Awoniyi: There are two ways to work permit. Either you play 75% of your national team games or you play in one of the top 5 leagues.
You were reportedly wanted by a host of clubs following a scintillating spell at Royal Excel Mouscron. How important is the move to Mainz to your promising career?
Awoniyi: It was always a tough decision to make. Going on loan, you just have to have a discussion and weigh the best option.
Though we saw Germany as the place that will boast the chance of work permit a bit. That’s why both parties decided to come to Germany and see what happens at the end of the season.
The U23 African Cup of Nations isn’t on FIFA Calendar. Elite clubs usually foot drag in releasing players for such competition. Will you be available for the tourney in Egypt?
Awoniyi: We won the last one in Senegal. I had to have a tough discussion with our club director then in 2015 and was allowed to go. But on this I will still do my best but the decision is not on me.
Which Liverpool player is your biggest inspiration?
Awoniyi: Roberto Firminho and Sadio Mane are amazing personalities.
Do you still wish to return to school? If so, what will you like to study?
Awoniyi: Am already in school studying
Business and Marketing Management at London School of International Business (LSIB).
What are your plans after football?
Awoniyi: Sighs…..Let’s see after the career but hopefully my desire is to go into business or still be in line of football.
Thanks for your time.
Awoniyi: The pleasure is mine.