Nigeria international Taiwo Awoniyi was one of just six players to have preceded Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and still been at the club when they won the Premier League.

The difference between him and the likes of Joe Gomez, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi is that he never played a game.

Awoniyi is closing in on a return to England after Nottingham Forest agreed a club-record £17.5million deal to sign him from Union Berlin.

On paper, the 24-year-old should be an experienced Premier League player having spent the same amount of years at Liverpool as Sadio Mane.

But while Mane departs for Bayern Munich after a glittering trophy haul during six seasons on Merseyside, Awoniyi’s first experience of playing at Anfield will come with Forest.

However, that is through no fault of his own as the talented striker consistently struggled to secure a work permit at Liverpool.

Liverpool swooped for Awoniyi after he starred for Nigeria in the U-17 World Cup
Awoniyi had very humble beginnings in Nigeria, having had to get creative in order to have football boots to play in as a youngster.

He told Premium Times Nigeria: “I have to learn how to sew shoes at home just to play football and I remember my dad bought me a football shoe and when it tore, I was forced to look for an alternative myself by going in search of a waste shoe being thrown away.

“I found one with Nike logo, I removed the logo and join it with the shoe, all my friend at United Academy were amazed at how I was able to create it then.”

After impressing at the Imperial Soccer Academy, Liverpool swooped to sign him for a cut-price £400,000 back in 2015.

But while Awoniyi waited on a work permit, he was farmed out on loan to FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen, Royal Excel Mouscron, Gent and Klopp’s former club Mainz.

Yet it was at Union Berlin where the forward finally started to find his feet and even drew comparisons to Erling Haaland.

“I think he’s found his level there, he’s what you would call a utility player, so he is perfect for the role they’ve given him. He works quite well for the Union Berlin system, which is also kind of direct, a lot of vertical passes, he makes a number of runs behind the backline,” German football expert Constanin Eckner told Blood Red.

“In a way he reminds me of Erling Haaland with the runs he makes behind the line.

He spent as many years at Liverpool as Mane
Awoniyi ultimately turned his loan to Berlin into a permanent £6.5m move last summer but not before he had the chance to link up with Liverpool for their pre-season camp in Austria.

And it gave him the chance to finally work under Klopp and also receive one of the German’s famous bear-hug greetings.

“He said ‘What took you so long?!’ To be honest, I have always been thinking about working with him. Even when I was at FSV Frankfurt [2015] and he had not signed for Liverpool yet, my team-mates there would always say that they wanted to play under him,” Awoniyi told GOAL in December.

“I was wondering why, really curious as to what he would be like. Then, when he signed for Liverpool, I was thinking ‘Wow! Maybe one day I will have my opportunity to meet him.’ And the first time I met him, I realised everything they said about him was true; the smile, the passion, everything he brings to the game.”

During those few weeks, Awoniyi worked alongside African icons Mane and Mohamed Salah but it was Firmino who captured his attention most.

“I’ve always said I loved to watch Roberto Firmino,” Awoniyi added. “The difference with him is that he makes it so easy for his other forwards.

“For players and people who really watch football, they know that not every striker can do what Firmino does as a centre-forward. Sometimes, you don’t find him in the centre-forward position, he comes into midfield, and not every striker can do this.

“For me, I always said it’s important to watch him and understand what he does.”

Awoniyi then began his second stint in Berlin in style, scoring in three successive matches on route to notching 15 Bundesliga goals.

He helped the club earn Europa League qualification and could even be set for a quick reunion with Forest due to play Die Eisernen in a pre-season friendly next month.

It’ll be his first showdown with Liverpool that’ll grab the headlines in the coming months.

And despite the fact that if things had been different Awoniyi could of been lining up under Klopp next season, the attacker has no regrets about how his career has panned out.

“Life is a journey. Everyone has different steps to take and routes to follow. Our destinies are different,” He told Tribal Football.

“I signed for Liverpool at a period in my young career as a footballer; when I did not understand how it works with work permit issues, but at the end we are still here talking about it.

“It shows that I did not make a bad decision to sign for Liverpool. I have always said that Liverpool is one of the best things that happened to me as a footballer.

“They gave me the platform to achieve my dream and with them I have no regret at all.

“I do not see not being able to play a game in the Premier League as a regret because in life, with time, everything is still possible.”

And in lesser time than he could have imagined, Awoniyi is set to turn that possibility into reality…

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