Grujic and Awoniyi: Laon-ly no more.
It has just been announced that Serbian international midfielder, Marko Grujic has joined FC Porto on a permanent deal from Liverpool to the tune of £10.5million. It was also revealed by Neil Jones of Goal this morning, that Nigerian striker, Taiwo Awoniyi is on his way to Union Berlin from Liverpool after a fee of £6.5million was agreed between the two clubs. A 10% sell on clause was negotiated into both deals to net a potentially tidy profit down the line.
This marks the end of two Liverpool careers that never were. Between them, they shared 12 different loans and just 16 appearances for the Merseyside based club, with Taiwo never actually featuring for the club. Both players were signed as youngsters and had to move countries year on year to join loan clubs, whilst experiencing different cultures, language, weather etc. They finally get a permanent move that allows them the chance to lay roots at one club.
We will take a look at where their Liverpool stories began, where it took them, and where they’re heading now.
The 25 year old Serbian was actually the first signing of the Jurgen Klopp era back in 2016. At the time, he was a highly rated 20 year old who had come through the ranks at his boyhood club, Red Star Belgrade and won the U20 World Cup with the Servia U20 national team. He was chased by Europe’s elite and was seen as something of a coup.
Jurgen Klopp placed a personal phone call to try and convince the player to join but Grujics’s father was against the move initially. It took former assistant manager Zeljko Buvac to fly to Belgrade to convince the player and his father of the move. He signed for £5.1million in January 2016 and spent the second half of that season on loan at Red Star Belgrade.
In that final season with Red Star, he made 30 appearances, while netting 6 goals and providing 7 assists from central midfield. He was now ready to make the step up.
He joined up with Klopp’s squad in the summer of 2016 and enjoyed a good pre-season, highlighted by a stunning header to seal a 4-0 win over Barcelona at Wembley. But as the season started, he found minutes hard to come by. Competition for places in the heart of midfield was fierce with captain Jordan Henderson, new signing Georginio Wijnaldum, experienced James Milner, newly converted midfielder Adam Lallana, German hotshot Emre Can and ever reliable Lucas Leiva all vying for a starting spot in Klopp’s favoured 4-3-3 formation. For the next eighteen months Marko will struggle for game time. He only made 13 appearances in 2016/17, providing 2 assists.
In January of 2018, he linked up with Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City on a six month loan deal. The idea was to get him regular playing time in the Championship to aid his development. He had a successful spell at the Welsh outfit as he helped them to automatic qualification after a second placed finish. He made a total of 24 appearances in that 2017/18 season, scoring twice and providing one assist.
After that successful loan, Neil Warnock wanted him back to aid his side in the Premier League but he missed out after Cardiff failed to meet Liverpool’s asking price for the loan fee. Liverpool had signed Fabinho Tavares from Monaco for big money and the previous summer’s big money signing, Naby Keita, was finally touching down. Two big money signings in his position meant he had to go out again in search of minutes. He signed for Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin. He enjoyed his time at Hertha and it was underlined when the Hertha coach hailed him as “by far the best midfielder Hertha in 20 years.” He made 23 appearances that season, scoring 5 goals and providing 1 assist.
With that ringing endorsement in his ear, he pushed for another year at Hertha and was granted his wish in July 2019 as Liverpool agreed another year long loan with the German side. This time he made 31 appearances, scoring 4 goals and providing 2 assists. All the while, Liverpool were growing from strength to strength and Jurgen Klopp had build his side into Champions League winners. Grujics’s task of breaking into the team was made all the more herculean.
He returned to Liverpool and again took part in a short pre-season (after lockdown was lifted) before again leaving for a new country. This time, FC Porto came calling. He made 41 appearances for the Portuguese outfit, including memorable ties in the Champions League against Juventus and Chelsea. He netted three times and mentioned in interviews how he’d love a return.
Fast forward to today and his wish has been granted. He joins Porto again, this time permanently, as he tried to establish himself. With the FIFA World Cup in 2022 looming, he needed this move to ensure he gets into the Serbia side. He was a part of the 2018 contingent that went to Russia 2018 but never made a single appearance. He’ll hope for a better fist of it this time to add to the 12 caps he’s earned for his country and all at Liverpool will wish him the very best. He ended up with just 16 appearances for the club over the course of 5 years.
The Nigerian striker, who turns 24 next month, was signed in 2015 under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers from the Imperial Soccer Academy for £300,000 – £400,000. Taiwo scored 4 goals as Nigeria U17 won the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2013. He was also part of the Nigeria squad that won the 2015 CAF U20 African Championship.
Taiwo did not qualify for a work permit in the UK and thus commenced his loan journey. It began in the summer of 2015 when he was almost immediately loaned to Bundesliga side Frankfurt. Taiwo found it hard to adapt and endured a frustrating season which ended in relegation for his temporal club. He made just 14 appearances, scoring and assisting once.
Summer of 2016 saw him join Dutch side NEC as he chased that elusive work permit. Again, the season ended in relegation but he enjoyed a decent season on a personal level. He played 28 times, netting 8 goals and providing 2 assists.
The summer of 2017 came around with no work permit in sight. So back on loan he went. This time around, to Belgian outfit Royal Mouscron Excel. He took to the Jupiler League like a duck to water and scored a debut goal for the club on what was actually his birthday. He played 31 times that season, scoring 10 goals and providing 7 assists. He had finally made a splash in Europe.
The following summer, 2018, he wanted a return to Belgium. Mouscron failed to finalise a deal with Liverpool and he instead joined fellow Belgian club Gent. In a difficult first half of the season where upheaval riddled the club, he sat down with the Liverpool Loans officer and they worked out a return to Mouscron for the second half of the season. Taiwo was a man reborn as he went on a scoring spree for Mouscron. He ended that 2018/19 season with 38 appear and a personal best tally of 14 goals and 3 assists.
In the off-season, he was informed of the need to make an impact in one of Europe’s top five leagues in order to smoothen the work permit application process. So off to Germany again he went. This time, Jurgen Klopp’s old club Mainz 05, came calling. He had his season ended with a nasty concussion after a collision with the opposition goalkeeper. He only played 12 games and found the back of the net just once.
By summer 2020, he needed another temporary home in one of Europe’s top five leagues and since he had already spent two years in Germany, the decision was made for him to return to the Bundesliga. Newly promoted Union Berlin came calling and he joined on a season long loan alongside erstwhile Liverpool teammate Loris Karius. He had another injury interrupted season after a bright start. But he did appear for them on 22 occasions, with his 6 goals and 4 assists leaving a lasting impression.
In May 2020, he received the news he had been waiting for for all of six years. He had finally done enough to earn a working permit. This meant he could finally train and play for the club he signed for all those years ago. Taiwo joined Jurgen Klopp’s travelling squad for their trip to Austria and trained with his heroes before Union Berlin came back in for him with a £6.5million bid. Whilst there will definitely be a tinge of regret on never actually appearing for Liverpool, the console is a chance to lay down roots at a club, the chance to settle down with his family (Taiwo got married to his childhood sweetheart in 2018) and a chance to o build long term connections. The feeling of being wanted and being chased by Union will be a confidence booster too for a player who had no real chance of usurping Roberto Firmino or Divock Origi in the pecking order.