Taiwo Awoniyi and Victor Osimhen have followed similar career paths. Both players owe their emergence to the scouting and coaching work of the Manu Garba-led coaching team at Nigeria’s U-17 national team level.
Awoniyi won the U-17 World Cup with Nigeria in 2013, scoring four goals. Osimhen also won the U-17 World Cup two years later, scoring 10 goals. Both are tall, languid but fast and have been compared with Nigeria’s legendary goal scorer, the late Rashidi Yekini.
They are also nearly of the same height. Awoniyi is one inch taller than his compatriot, standing at 193cm to Osimhen’s 191cm.
Both also signed for big clubs at a very young age. Awoniyi signed for Liverpool in 2015 at 18; Osimhen for VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga in 2017. They also both went through the proverbial football wilderness. Awoniyi did not play a single competitive match for Liverpool until they sold him to Union Berlin in August 2021 while Osimhen made 16 unheralded appearances for Wolfsburg without scoring a goal.
While the promises appeared to have dissipated, doubts would have crossed their minds.
Napoli striker, Victor Osimhen
A downward trajectory
In 2019, Osimhen agreed to a loan deal to modest Belgian side, Charleroi, and his career tookoff once again. A move to Ligue 1 swiftly followed that one season in Belgium with a harvest of goals for Lille drawing the attention of Serie A giants, Napoli. His $79.2 million transfer fee in the COVID-19-hit summer transfer window was the highest as he finally found the spotlight again after the goal-scoring record at the 2015 U-17 World Cup.
Awoniyi’s path slightly differs as Liverpool believed he needed experience elsewhere to grow. The Reds sent him on loan to six different clubs between 2015 and 2021. He played on loan in Belgium with Mouscron and Gent; in Germany with FSV Frankfurt, Mainz, and Union Berlin, and once in the Netherlands with NEC Nijmegen.
Through all this, what the career paths of both youngsters have proved is that success in football is closely related to confidence, from the manager to the player and to ultimately finding a ‘home’.
Confidence and goals
“My confidence level was very low at some point and what going out on loan to Charleroi has done for me is unexplainable,” Osimhen told BBC Sport in 2018.
“It was tough in Germany because of the high expectations. Some people started doubting me and also pushed me to start doubting myself as well.
“The football in Belgium helped. I also have a wonderful group of players around me and the coaching crew has been great with me.
“As a young player, you hear people comparing you to other stars who emerged from the under-17 World Cup and never fulfilled their potential. But now at Charleroi I have comfortably found my happiness again, and I thank everyone in Belgium and at Wolfsburg
for the opportunity and support.”
Taiwo Awoniyi scored Union Berlin’s first Bundesliga goal [PHOTO CREDIT: Goal Africa]
Finding a home
Union Berlin signed Awoniyi in a €5.5million deal from Liverpool in August after an initial successful loan spell. The manager, Christian Beeck, described Awoniyi as their best business in recent years and expressed his confidence that the striker would continue to deliver for the team.
“For me, Awoniyi is the most successful transfer. With him, Union has a wall in the front. A great player who brings a lot to the table. He just has to stay healthy and train,” Beeck said.
For Awoniyi, it feels like he has finally found a ‘home’.
“After lots of loan moves in previous years, I want to finally come and have a home,” Awoniyi told Union Berlin’s official website.
“I owe so much to Union, so it makes me happy and proud to be back here. It’s fantastic to continue on the great path with the club. I’ll give everything to quickly pick up where I was before my injury.”
Speaking to the Bundesliga website in early September, Awoniyi said he can now focus on his football after bagging a permanent transfer to Union Berlin in the transfer window.
“Now that I’m back to one place, I believe I’m more stable, more focused.
“It’s not like I’m working towards what’s happening after the summer, what’s happening in the winter and stuff like this. It is not like that anymore. It’s not only because of that, but I think Union is a team that suits my style of play and the coach gave me the chance that I needed, and I think this is why everything is going well.”
Awoniyi’s pursuit and final capture would have given the 24-year-old the needed confidence to actualise his undoubted potential.
“We got to know Taiwo last season (2020/21), and we became sure of his qualities,” Oliver Ruhnert, Union Berlin’s managing director of football, stated after Awoniyi’s acquisition.
“His robustness, his dedication and his unconditional willingness to learn and develop were the deciding factors for us to give everything to make this transfer happen.”
Over in Naples, Osimhen revealed to a Napoli website how much he is receiving confidence from his manager, Luciano Spalletti. “I am very happy for my performance. I was sorry for what happened last year, from the injury to Covid. For me, it was important to start well this year.
“For this, I also thank Spalletti, who has given me confidence. I am honored to have a coach like him. After training, he stops with me, he explains the things to me and he really counts a lot to me…”
The constant in these two journeys is finding a home where the player feels the confidence of the manager.
While Osimhen has scored six goals in seven games this season for Napoli and the Super Eagles; Awoniyi has five goals in nine appearances for Union Berlin in all competitions.
Their trajectory seems to have converged and moving in the same direction; more goals and more experience in Spain and Germany. That should be good news for Gernot Rohr and the Super Eagles.