Awoniyi's Premier League gamble paid off but not for Onuachu

Awoniyi's Premier League gamble paid off but not for Onuachu

Joba Ogunwale 17:55 - 24.05.2023

Taiwo Awoniyi and Paul Onuachu have suffered contrasting fortunes in England’s top flight, even though they both had the same goal.

Twelve months ago, a few Nigerian players were linked with a move away from their clubs, most notably Taiwo Awoniyi. 

Awoniyi was heads and shoulders above his Nigerian rivals last season after scoring 15 league goals for Union Berlin in Bundesliga. 

He was Nigeria’s top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues last season, finishing above Victor Osimhen, who scored 14 for Napoli. 

Awoniyi proves critics wrong to cement cult-hero status at City Ground

Awoniyi’s goals were enough to help Union Berlin qualify for the Europa League, but he could not play any part in their European journey. 

Awoniyi scored 15 league goals for Union Berlin last season
Taiwo Awoniyi (R) during his time at Union Berlin playing against Hoffenheim

Following his impressive season, Awoniyi was instantly linked with a move away from Union Berlin, with Premier League clubs interested. 

In fairness, it was expected, and the player could not be blamed for deciding to leave. The Premier League is the best league in the world and every player’s dream. 

To Awoniyi, it was more than that. It was more of an obsession and unfinished business. The Super Eagles star had spent six years at Liverpool but never made one competitive appearance for the Reds, going on several loan spells during his time at the club. 

Awoniyi did not play a competitive match for Liverpool
Awoniyi joined Liverpool in 2015

It was why he could not resist the lure of the Premier League when the opportunity to achieve his childhood dream came again. 

But while there was nothing wrong with Awoniyi’s decision to move to the Premier League, it was his decision to join Nottingham Forest that raised questions. 

At that time, it was argued that Awoniyi could have been more ambitious with his choice instead of settling for a club likely to battle relegation all season. 

No disrespect to Forest, who are two-time European Champions. But they were a newly-promoted side when Awoniyi joined and were tipped for relegation, even though they brought in over 20 players. 

It was why many felt Awoniyi could have done better than moving to Nottingham. It could even be argued that he was better off staying with Union Berlin for European football. 

Awoniyi joined Nottingham Forest from Union Berlin last summer
Taiwo Awoniyi became Nottingham Forest's record signing in June 2022

Still, Awoniyi trusted his instinct and joined the Tricky Trees, which has now paid off. The Nigeria international has proven doubters and critics (including this writer) wrong. 

It has been a dream Premier League debut season for the Nigerian to remember despite a mixed start. 

Awoniyi did get off to a good start at City Ground, scoring in his first league match at home against West Ham. He added a second on matchday eight, scoring the winner against Fulham. 

The Super Eagles star also scored the winner against Liverpool and Southampton before the goals dried up, no thanks to injuries and lack of game time. 

However, he picked up form at the business end of the season, scoring a brace against Southampton and Chelsea before scoring the all-important goal against Arsenal that ensured Forest’s safety. 

Awoniyi's goal saved Nottingham Forest from relegation
Super Eagles of Nigeria and Nottingham Forest forwards Emmanuel Dennis and Taiwo Awoniyi

A few weeks ago, Forest were toying with relegation, but Awoniyi’s brace against Southampton and Chelsea before the winner against Arsenal sealed their stay in the Premier League for another this season.

Overall, he scored nine goals and recorded one assist in 26 league games for Steve Cooper’s men.

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Without his goals, Forest would not have survived their return to top-flight football. His goals contributed to more than a third of Forest's points in the Premier League this season.  

Only Kane won more points for his club with his goals than Awoniyi in the Premier League this season. 

It looked like a wrong move when he joined the club last summer, but Awoniyi’s gamble has paid off.  

His profile has skyrocketed, and he is now seen as a cult hero at City Ground after scoring the vital goal that sealed their status as a Premier League team. 

Unlucky Onuachu 

However, for every Awoniyi, there is a Paul Onuachu. Like Awoniyi, Onuachu also moved to the Premier League this season after a successful spell at his previous club. 

The expectation for both players was almost the same as Onuachu also joined a club involved in a relegation battle, Southampton. 

The only difference is that Onuachu joined the Saints in the middle of the season, unlike Awoniyi, who signed for Nottingham Forest before a ball was kicked. 

In fairness, Onuachu should not be criticised for moving in January as he should have left Genk earlier.

The Super Eagles star was arguably the best striker in the Belgian top flight during his time with the Smurfs. 

Onuachu had a successful time at Genk before joining Southampton
Onuachu joined Southampton in January

Still, he never got a move despite his consistency in front of goal. However, while he deserved a move away from the Belgian league, his decision to join Southampton was not well-thought. 

Onuachu joined the Saints in January, knowing the Saints were likely to get relegated. Although only half of the season had just been played when Onuachu joined, it was almost certain that Southampton were going down. 

Aside from the relegation cloud hanging over them, his decision to join the side was baffling as he did not fit the club’s profile of play tactically. 

Nonetheless, Onuachu went ahead with the move. The decision has now backfired, as the Saints’ relegation has now been confirmed. 

Paul Onuachu relegates with Southampton
Paul Onuachu relegates with Southampton

It means Onuachu is now set to play second-division football next season- a big downgrade from a potential Champions League football if he had stayed with Genk. 

But what is more disturbing for Onuachu is the lack of game time at St Mary’s. The Nigerian striker has played just 405 minutes of league football since joining Southampton. 

The Super Eagles star could find himself struggling for minutes in the Championship next season unless he finds an escape route.

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