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Taiwo Awoniyi: Q & A with FC Union Berlin’s Nigerian forward

Taiwo Awoniyi

Taiwo Awoniyi has already scored five goals this season. The Under-23 Nigerian international discusses how he has settled into his new club, Union Berlin’s very strong start to the season, how special the club’s fans are and the differences between Nigerian and German football.

Awoniyi on ‘arriving’ in the Bundesliga

“For me, I will say, I wouldn’t put it like I’ve really ‘arrived’. I would say we’re still on track to achieve our goal, which is to keep fighting for the team, and I think, for me, it’s always about the team: always fighting, working, doing everything for the team. And for a striker, I believe once you put that first, the rest of the things will come. The other things that will come are the goals, the assists… So, as I was saying, for me it’s about the team, it’s about fighting and working for the team, and the other things will follow, which is scoring and assisting. But the thing I focus on most is the victory of the team. The goals also come through the effort of my teammates: how we do it together, work together as a team, and I think that was the success of the team.”

Awoniyi on his arrival at Union

“I will say, from the director to the coaches to the players, they are really friendly guys and friendly people. We stay together as a family. I think anyone who comes into this kind of atmosphere will enjoy it. We love doing what we are doing, and that was what integrated me into the team quite early. I will also give kudos to my Nigerian big brother, Anthony Ujah because he helped me a lot in getting into the team, he told me stuff [about] what the coach expected and everything. I think those are part of the things that helped me to get going in the team.”

Awoniyi on Union’s success

“Yeah, for me, it takes a lot of work, for the other team to understand what they are going to do, and what we are going to do in every game. I think this is kudos to the coaches, because they put in a lot of work to tell us what’s expected in every game. For us, like I said, it’s all about family, it’s all about looking after each other, it’s all about seeing each other, helping each other on the field of play. We don’t look more at mistakes, because of course, football is a game of mistakes and we’ll make mistakes for sure, but [we look at] what happens when you make a mistake. I think that’s part of what is helping us as a team. I believe may be most clubs look at the team as a team that will play long balls, we go there, we change the gameplan and everything, sometimes they said, ‘Ok they are coming here to sit deep’, we go there, we change it, and we go forward. I think this is kudos to the coaches. They know what they want in every game, in every aspect, in every moment, and this is what they tell us players. For us as players, we just try as much as possible to do what is expected of us, and that’s what is keeping the team going so far.”

Awoniyionhis forward partners

“Yeah, for us, to be honest, the injuries of players, with Joel, with Kruse, with Tony Ujah, this is something the team doesn’t expect. We’re hoping they come back, because we need them. They’re part of us, and they will help us a lot as well. But with Sheraldo Becker, we discussed a lot, we talk a lot together, even off the pitch, we talk, we joke a lot in the dressing room as well. It’s just a good relationship that we have, and I think this helps us when we play together on the field of play. And not only Sheraldo, but also everyone in this team, in my opinion.”

Awoniyion Union fans

“With the history of the club, and the history that I heard about the fans -I won’t even say it’s something that I heard, because it’s something I experienced also. Even with the COVID and everything, without fans in the stadium, when we play at home, you can still hear the sound from outside the stadium. This is how big of a fan base they have, but it’s just unfortunate that presently they cannot come into the stadium and we hope everything is better very soon, and we can enjoy the game together. But for us, it’s just what we do. It’s our responsibility, it’s our job. We just have to keep on going, though it’s unfortunate for the fans, but for us, we just go onto the field and we believe they are still there with us, because I believe they are watching from home, and for us, our motivation is doing everything for them, because if they’re watching from home, they should still feel the joy inside that their team is winning and doing well. And I think for me, this is part of the motivation for us as a team.”

Awoniyi on the differences between Nigerian and German football

“Yeah, I will say like, to be honest, growing up it was more difficult. It was really difficult. But for me, glory to God, because that’s my belief. But when we compare in terms of football in Africa, in Nigeria, and Germany, I will say there is better structure here, and this is why the league is like this, why you find a lot of talent, quite developed, quite good. When it comes to talent, I would say there is more talent in Nigeria, may be less opportunity. That’s just the true difference in my opinion.”

Awoniyi on Rashadi Yekini

“For me, may his soul rest in peace, because in Nigeria, he’s a great legend, he’s someone that they talk a lot about when it comes to the national team, when it comes to what he has done for the national team. But for me, I was not born when he was playing, but when I was told about him, by my dad, my friends, even the media, I went to YouTube and I watched him, I watched how he scored his goals. But for me, I see it as a privilege, and I see it as a motivation, for me to be compared to such a great player that is gone for now. The truth about this is, what I always said to people, is I just want to be me, I want to be Taiwo. That’s just my own opinion, with respect to everything he has achieved for the country when he was alive. I just hope he is in a perfect place now. For me, I just have to keep on working and try to become what I want to become, for myself. That’s what I think about it. Whenever I’m asked, or whenever I’m told this kind of question -because I’ve been told many, many times! The best you can do is just to work hard, and do more for yourself as a player, and maybe to achieve or try to do what he has done, or try to pass him, who knows? But the most important thing is to stay how you are, keep on working, and keep on being yourself.I believe with that, the future will be better.”

Awoniyi on Jay-Jay Okocha

“Yeah, yeah, yeah! Everyone knows Jay-Jay Okocha. He’s also a great legend in Nigeria, everyone in the world knows Jay-Jay Okocha. I can remember when I first came to Germany in 2015, my first time in the hotel before I got an apartment, when I playing for FSV Frankfurt, he was staying in the same hotel as me! I met him downstairs, and I greeted him, and I was really happy to meet him, because he’s really a great leader, everyone wants to have a picture with him, and for me he was good then. A lot of Nigerian players always watch everything he’s done when he was playing in his days.”

Awoniyi on his advice to young African players

“For me, I’ll always say, the most important thing, firstly I say to people, everyone has his own belief, but my belief is God, I believe he makes everything possible. I always say, the first thing is what you believe, believe in yourself. I will say to them, keep on going, keep on working hard, and the most important thing is to be patient. Even if it’s going good or not, keep on working and be patient. At the end of the day, with your hard work, your patience, and your belief, it will come to pass, whatever you desire. That is my own philosophy to life, and that’s the same thing I will keep on saying to most African players, because going from Africa to Europe is a long journey, it’s not easy. But no-one can tell you you cannot achieve this. Everything is achievable in life if you believe, and if you work hard towards it. I believe the end will justify the means -that’s what I say to most young players, because this has been my philosophy and this is what I’ll keep on believing until the end of my career.”

Awoniyi on head coach Urs Fischer

“Yeah, why I said that was because the first time I arrived in Union Berlin, apart from Tony Ujah, I didn’t know anyone. For a coach to take you in, sit you down, tell you what he wants, what he expects of you, and joke with you, to work with you, this is what a parent does to their children. When I was asked about him, that was the word that came out of my mouth, because everything he has done is what my father also did to me. If I’m at home in Nigeria, or if he’s here with me, he will always tell me, always correct me and tell me things that I need to do, and how I need to get better. I think that’s what every parent does for their children, and when I was asked about this, that was what makes me think of that situation when I arrived, and how we talked together, how we trained together, what he says to you in training, it’s something that brings a parent figure in you, and that was what made me describe him as a father.”

Awoniyi on becoming a father

“It’s not quite easy, because I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, to be honest! It’s something good, though, because you realise you have more responsibility, and it’s a way to show you the opportunity, you need to be responsible in everything you’re doing. You can’t just do anything you want any more, you have to be responsible because back home you know you have your wife and your child waiting for you, as they grow up, he wants to know what his dad is doing, what his parents are doing, and for me, it’s an influence to be more responsible. That’s how I see it. It’s more joy, because going home and knowing you have someone in him waiting for you at home, your family is growing and everything is going good, it’s something good for me as a person.”

Awoniyi on a good few months

“I must confess, it’s really going good, so far. I believe it will keep on going. It’s just how it is for now.”Awoniyionthe weather“It’s five years, six years now, that I’ve been in Europe. At the beginning, when I first arrived it was colder, but now I think I’m more used to the situation, and you just have to know what to put on! You just have to look after yourself, and I think you’ll be fine after that.”

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