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Taiwo Awoniyi on his recovery, wants Super Eagles chance

Five years after signing for English Premier League champions Liverpool, Nigeria under-23 striker Taiwo Awoniyi is still on the outside looking in.
The 22-year-old joined Liverpool on a long-term deal in August 2015 from Nigeria’s Imperial Academy, but has never played for The Reds due to his inability to secure a work permit.
His sixth loan spell outside of England at German side Mainz ended badly when he suffered concussion from a serious head injury.
He was taken off the pitch on a stretcher as they lost 1-0 to Augsburg in June after the resumption of the Bundesliga and was taken to hospital.
“I can never underestimate the impact of faith on my life and career. God used the referee [Marco Fritz] on the pitch before they took me to the hospital,” Awoniyi told BBC Sport Africa.
“I fell awkwardly and that image scared a lot of people including my family and friends, but the quick intervention of the referee and medics from both clubs was swift.


“Most significantly, I recovered remarkably quickly and it was a moment of deep reflection about God when I left the hospital.
“Faith means everything to me; I put it above football and faith provides one possible explanation as to why we are all here and alive.”
Since moving to England, Awoniyi has watched the transformation of the Reds under German manager Jurgen Klopp from afar.
He has seen his parent club win the European Champions League, European Super Cup and then the Club World Cup, before claiming the most-sought Premier League prize in July.
“Liverpool is a great and family club. I feel very proud to say I am part of that family,” he continued.
“From the outside looking in, you can see a lot has changed within the club and it has influenced how people see Liverpool.
“The manager [Klopp] is admired and respected by a lot of people. You can see the impact he has made at the club.
“The league title reflects his ethics, the work the whole team from the staff to the players have put together and it is very well deserved.
“Growing up I followed the league on television. There’s just a different ethos at the club that experts now see Liverpool as one of the favourites for the title every season.”
Awoniyi says he is proud to call himself a Liverpool player, but admits he will never trade regular football for a non-playing squad role in the championship-winning side.
“It would definitely be great to be a part of the success,” he admitted.
“But honestly, I would rather be where I am playing more and in a team that I can earn the medal of my own that I honestly worked for.
“It sounds a bit odd but that is the truth. To be compensated for not making any contribution is not fair.”
Despite not making an appearance for Liverpool he is a big fan of the manager Jurgen Klopp and is happy that the boss takes an interest in his career.
“Jurgen Klopp’s a man everyone is happy to be around,” he explained.
“When I was going to Mainz last year he wished me luck because he is highly revered over there.
“And during my first year of professional football in 2015, many of my teammates talked about him at FSV Frankfurt and meeting him again shows how much he’s loved by people.
“His personality illustrates the success in Mainz, Dortmund and now Liverpool. It shows how great he is as a person. He is very warm, direct and honest.”
Since becoming a Red, the forward has enjoyed loan spells with then German second-tier club FSV Frankfurt, Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, Belgian outfits Royal Excel Mouscron (twice) and KAA Gent 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% of a Fifa top-50 ranked national team’s matches over the previous two years.
Awoniyi admits that in fairness to the manager, the issue is completely out of his hands.
“I couldn’t take my chance to go on pre-season with Liverpool last year because I suffered an injury before resumption,” he recalled.
“I’m a realist as well. Even if I impressed the manager and did great during the tour, I would still face the hurdle of not having a work permit to allow me play in England.
“The manager will only focus on those eligible to play. But being with the squad on pre-season is always great because you learn and develop more as a player.”
His quest for that work permit has not been helped by being overlooked by the last two Nigeria coaches.
Awoniyi, who helped Nigeria win the Under-17 World Cup in 2013, has represented the country at all levels.
He has witnessed the stock of his class of 2013 teammates like Kelechi Iheanacho and Francis Uzoho rising rapidly with the Super Eagles.
He feels that over the years he has done enough to get more senior call-ups not least during his two loan spells at Belgian club Royal Mouscron, where he scored 21 goals and provided 10 assists in 47 games.
“I’m happy for [Kelechi] Iheanacho and Uzoho because they are deserving of the opportunity,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“Personally, I feel like I deserve a chance. I recall when I was playing well and scoring goals in Belgium. Nigeria had a friendly game and I thought I had done enough to get a look in that would hopefully enhance my quest for a UK work permit, but I was overlooked.
“You begin to understand that it’s not something you can control or have power over. You just need to enjoy what you do and keep on working hard.”
He played at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, netting twice and then helped Nigeria win the 2015 African Under-23 Championship in Senegal.
However he missed out on playing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Liverpool beat off the likes of Porto and Monaco to land the frontman, who at the time was likened to Christian Benteke, in August 2015.
But seven years after ruling the world at Fifa’s cadet tournament and five years after being snapped as a young prospect by the Reds, Awoniyi has taken a philosophical look at his career.
“Whatsoever you do, my philosophy is to always be satisfied that you’ve put in your best, rather than regretting,” he said.
“Many situations I have found myself in might be difficult to explain to those outside, because football is not just what people see on the pitch from where they sit.
“Fighting for a spot at a big club like Liverpool without what will help you keep the spot (work permit ) doesn’t look realistic to me.
“If that [work permit] happens then we can talk about a spot, but if it fails to materialise then you have to be man enough and admit that you’ve given it your everything.”
With his ongoing problems qualifying for a British work permit it looks almost certain that Awoniyi will be sent out on loan again for next season.
Awoniyi believes he has done enough to get a call-up to the Nigeria national team.
The forward has represented the West Africans at U17, U20 and U23 level but has struggled to gain attention from the senior national team coaches.
Awoniyi’s teammates at youth level, Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho and APOEL goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, have become key members of the Super Eagles while Watford striker Isaac Success has also been given a chance in the past.
The 22-year-old has been with Liverpool since 2015 but has spent his time on loan featuring for FSV Frankfurt, NEC, Royal Excel Mouscron, Gent and recently Mainz.
Awoniyi has impressed during his temporary move away from the Premier League club but in the 2019-20 season, the striker was restricted to 12 league games owing to a number of reasons, including injury problems.
The Imperial Soccer Academy graduate is looking forward to getting an opportunity to feature for the Super Eagles under manager Gernot Rohr.
“I’m happy for [Kelechi] Iheanacho and Uzoho because they are deserving of the opportunity,” Awoniyi told BBC Sport.
“Personally, I feel like I deserve a chance. I recall when I was playing well and scoring goals in Belgium. Nigeria had a friendly game and I thought I had done enough to get a look in that would hopefully enhance my quest for a UK work permit, but I was overlooked.
“You begin to understand that it’s not something you can control or have power over. You just need to enjoy what you do and keep on working hard.”
Awoniyi, whose loan with Mainz ended at the end of 2019-20 season, also spoke highly of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“Jurgen Klopp’s a man everyone is happy to be around. When I was going to Mainz last year he wished me luck because he is highly revered over there,” he continued.
“And during my first year of professional football in 2015, many of my teammates talked about him at FSV Frankfurt and meeting him again shows how much he’s loved by people. His personality illustrates the success in Mainz, Dortmund.”
Awoniyi could spend the 2020-21 season on another loan as he is yet to secure a work permit that would enable him to play for Liverpool.

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