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Inside Awoniyi’s inspiring journey, from sewing own football boots to forgotten Liverpool spell and Prem stardom

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NOTTINGHAM FOREST’S Taiwo Awoniyi had overcome numerous obstacles to reach the pinnacle of English football.

From having to make his own boots from others people have thrown away to a long-forgotten spell at Liverpool, the 26-year-old’s journey is truly inspiring.

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Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi’s inspiring journey started with him sewing his own boots together[/caption]
Getty
Awoniyi never played for Liverpool but it was his spell at Union Berlin that changed his career forever[/caption]

In 2015 the Nigerian international arrived at Anfield on a £400,000 move.

After spending six years at Liverpool without making a senior appearance due to work permit issues, Awoniyi embarked on a series of loan spells to clubs across Europe.

Seven temporary moves included FSV Frankfurt, Gent and Mainz, but it was his life-changing move to Union Berlin in 2021 that changed everything for the forward.

Awoniyi told The Times: “It was frustrating because every summer I’d be in pre-season training at Liverpool waiting to see how it goes with the permit.

“I hadn’t played for my national team or in any of Europe’s top five leagues.

“In the end I’d have to go out on loan, but in life I have been in more difficult situations than that.

“I’ve always believed I would play in the Premier League. It has always been my biggest target as a football player.”

It was during his time at Union Berlin that he finally caught the eye of Forest as Awoniyi scored 18 goals in all competitions for the Bundesliga side in the 2021-22 season.

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And during the summer of 2022, he emerged as a top priority target for the East Midlands side.

Steve Cooper‘s side then decided to take their leap of faith and made Awoniyi their record signing in a £17million deal – a figure now overtaken by Morgan Gibbs-White.

Rise to stardom

But Awoniyi’s journey to the City Ground is a testament to his unwavering faith and determination.

His resilience is a story re-told by many Nigerians whom Awoniyi looked up to as a youngster including Jay-Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, and John Obi Mikel.

Awoniyi, a devout Christian, grew up in Ilorin, Nigeria, where life was not so easy for an aspiring footballer.

At times his family were unable to afford the football boots Taiwo needed to play. They would do their best, but there were moments when Awoniyi was forced to get creative.

AFP - Getty
Awoniyi would sew his own boots as a kid training in Nigeria[/caption]

When others would discard their boots because of the wear and tear, he would sew them together again.

He continued: “One year I had to walk for about an hour to get to the training camp.

It comes with a lot of difficulties. Back in the day, sometimes I even had to make my own football shoes.

Taiwo AwoniyiThe Times

“My dad had retired so we lived further away. We also had to worry about what we were eating and drinking.

“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 joined it with the shoe, all my friend at United Academy were amazed at how I was able to create it then.”

His resilience and hard work paid off as he rose through the ranks to represent his country at the U17 World Cup in 2013, where he played a crucial role in Nigeria’s victory after scoring four goals in the tournament.

He also represented Nigeria at the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand after winning the 2015 African U20 Championship in Senegal.

And that’s when Jurgen Klopp was mesmerised by Awoniyi and signed the then-18-year-old, who had been playing at Nigeria’s Imperial Soccer Academy.

Life at Forest

Fast forward to today, Awoniyi has made an immediate impact for Forest.

In his home debut, he scored his first Premier League goal in a 1–0 win against West Ham United.

And then in October, he scored the winning goal in a 1–0 home win against former club Liverpool.

Towards the end of the season, he scored six goals in four games, including the winner in a 1–0 home victory over Arsenal on 20 May 2023 that preserved the club’s Premier League status.

Alamy
The forward has been instrumental for Forest since he arrived in 2022[/caption]

On 18 August 2023, Awoniyi became the first Forest player to score in six consecutive Premier League matches since Stan Collymore in April 1995.

This term has not been so smooth after Forest’s leading scorer had to undergo groin surgery

Awoniyi first suffered the injury in October and aggravated it while on international duty with Nigeria, forcing him to withdraw from their squad in November.

After scoring 16 goals in 44 Premier League appearances, the striker hopes to continue playing in first-tier football next season.

But since Forest suffered a four-point deduction due to breaching Profit and Sustainability regulations they are facing a tough relegation battle.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side will take on Crystal Palace at the City Ground on Saturday in a crucial clash to move themselves up in the table.

Taiwo Awoniyi's football timeline

  • Signed for Liverpool 2015-2021 on a £400,000 deal
  • Frankfurt (on loan) 2015-16
  • NEC (on loan) 2016-17
  • Mouscron (on loan) 2017-18
  • Gent (on loan) 2018-19
  • Mouscron (on loan) 2019
  • Mainz (on loan) 2019-20
  • Union Berlin (on loan) 2020-21
  • Then signed a permanent deal worth £6.5million at Union Berlin 2021-22
  • Nottingham Forest then made him club record signing worth £17million in 2022.
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