At 18 years of age Karim Adeyemi is catching the eye at Salzburg. His journey to the Austrian giants hasn’t always been easy. This is his inside story.
Karim Adeyemi was onto the Lokomotiv defender like a hawk pouncing on its prey. As any predator he had sniffed out his opponent’s weakness, and he lunged at his victim at the perfect moment.
Before the defender could even blink, 18 year old Karim, had stolen his prized possession and rampaged through towards the Lokomotiv goal.
It was a moment to show Karim’s mettle. A crunch Champions League match edging towards the final moments. A game to determine the fate of Salzburg’s season. With a defender and a goalkeeper to beat Adeyemi still had plenty to do.
But the 18 year old kept his cool. A smart feint sent the defender the wrong way and a deft finish slotted the ball past the goalkeeper into the back of the net.
An acrobatic somersault to celebrate in the brisk Moscow night was the icing on the cake.
In less than ten seconds, Karim Adeyemi showed a small teaser of his limitless potential. One which a small club on the outskirts of Bavaria is all too familiar with.
The son of a Nigerian father and a Romanian mother Karim Adeyemi was born in Munich- the capital of Bavaria.
It wasn’t long before a young Karim embraced football.
It turned that that he was quite good at it too.
He was spotted by Bayern Munich playing in a local amateur league and the German giants snapped up the young boy at an early age.
As a boy Karim already lived the dream of many men across the world. But perhaps the ‘dream’ was a little too early to fathom for someone so young and the rigid structure of Bayern too restricting.
After all like most young Bavarians, Karim was carefree and a little erratic. He’d miss training sessions, arrive late and at a big club like Bayern such uncouth behaviour was not acceptable.
The Munich giants turned him away from the club when Karim turned 11 years old.
For some boys that would have been the end of the journey but Karim showed mettle to get up and persevere in pursuit of his dream.
Much to the benefit of a lesser known football club in the Bavarian district, SpVgg Unterhaching.
‘We saw him at a tournament in Munich. After that, it was immediately clear that we would definitely like to have him in our club,’ Marc Unterberger Uterhaching’s U17 coach tells First Time Finish exclusively.
The right club
In Karim Adeyemi the plucky club from Bavaria immediately recognised a supreme potential. One that was neglected at a giant club like Bayern Munich where players come and go in hordes and there is less of an emphasis on personal development.
At Unterhaching the club placed a special focus on Karim. They took him under their wing and nurtured him in a way that they could ensure to bring the best of the young striker both on the pitch and off it.
‘He loved the ball.’ Marc Unterberger recalls. ‘And of course his speed and dynamism stood out. He could already score many goals back then.’
Adeyemi always played an age group above his peers at Unterhaching such was his talent. It allowed the diminutive but pacey forward to adapt to a more advanced and physical environment which has helped him to adapt to adult football quicker than most.
Less than two years after Adeyemi’s release from Bayern Munich he would have his revenge.
The Merkur Cup is one of the most coveted youth tournaments in Germany. One every kid dreams of winning.
Some of the previous players to have participated in the tournament include the likes of Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Florian Neuhaus.
In 2013, the tournament’s spotlight fell on Karim Adeyemi who stole the show with Unterchanging.
During the final round of games, Adeyemi faced, Bayern Munich, and he took his chance to show the Bavarian giants what had slipped through their fingers.
A deft winner to defeat his old foes and help Unterhaching lift the trophy was proof of Adeyemi’s incredible potential.
‘You could already see that he was special in the U11s. When we won the Merkur Cup, Karim was the man of the tournament, it was clear to us that we were dealing with a very special player,’ Unterberger recalls.
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Many who remember Adeyemi in his teenager years, recall a football obsessed teenager. But while his passion for the game was appreciated and was paramount at Unterhaching, it did get in the way of his studies.
Adeyemi would often slack at school. He would neglect his homework which started to become a concern.
The club were quick to step in and discipline the young man.
‘Karim had not done his homework once or twice. We got this information from the school. And then we said: no homework, no training. ‘
Karim initially refused to heed the coaches demands and arrived at training sessions before being turned away.
For a kid that only wanted to play football having been prevented from his primary enjoyment must have felt like the end of the world.
It also provided the necessary motivation to put in the same effort at school as he did on the pitch and he quickly buckled down.
‘We did that for 14 days. From then on, Karim understood that school is at least as important to us as football. And from then on, he was also good at school,’ Unterberger recalls.
Unterhaching’s involvement was pivotal to build Ademeyi’s character. Something which a club like Bayern Munich with a bigger player pool might have neglected.
The club also took extra care to teach him all the fundamental aspects of the game.
‘He didn’t find the athletic training that interesting at the beginning and was often sloppy. It was a dialogue and a process to make him understand that this will be important for his future. Today I think he is grateful for it.’
Interest from European giants
Unterberger is right. As Karim Adeyemi has developed, his best trait has become his athletic ability.
His prowess to maraud in between defensive lines coupled with his frightening speed makes him a dangerous prospect.
One that is hard to stop.
By 15, Adeyemi featured regularly for Unterhaching’s U17 and U19 teams.
15 goals in 15 games for the club’s U17 team during the 2017-18, was quick to ignite a frenzy over his signature.
There was reported interest from Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Unterhaching realised they would not be able to hold onto their youngster for long.
‘Karim had several options when he left us. Of course he asked us for advice on what we thought, but he decided on his own with his family,’ Unterberger remembers.
‘The decisive factor was certainly the proximity to Munich.’
The decision to move to Red Bull Salzburg may have raised a few eyebrows but it was an easy choice for Karim. At Salzburg he would remain close to his family. He did not need to learn a new language. And of course with the Austrian giant’s track record for bringing through young talent, how could he say no?
It is a decision which is paying dividends. Salzburg have managed Adeyemi with precision. They did not throw him into the limelight straight away. But the club’s structure has allowed him to taste adult football at a younger age than most.
From the age of 16 Adeyemi featured regularly for the club’s second string side, Liefering who ply their trade in the Austrian second division. Last season in 23 matches, Adeyemi scored 12 times and handed out 15 assists.
Salzburg head coach, Jesse Marsch has already worked with the likes of Erling Haaland and Patson Daka. When the former departed for pastures new the latter stepped up.
Adeyemi has been groomed to be the heir to Patson Daka’s throne.
At 19 he is regularly featuring for Salzburg and has become the main man following Patson Daka’s departure. Two assists in his first start for the club last season and a goal in his second is proof when the time comes he will be ready.
His goal against Lokomotiv was another flicker.
In 6 starts for Salzburg Adeyemi already has 6 goals and 1 assist this season. 7 goal involvements in less than 500 minutes of action is impressive to say the least. With more playing time there will undoubtedly be more goals.
‘He is a player who can win games. No matter against whom and no matter at what time. He is always maximally focused when it comes to points,’ Unterberger remembers of his former protégé.
The omens are favourable. Salzburg’s impressive plethora of former graduates is endless and Adeyemi possess the speed and ruthlessness which has been the characteristics of many of his predecessors at the club.
A goal on his debut for the German national team was just the icing on the cake. And now links to Liverpool suggest, he may not be in Salzburg for long.
‘He has come a long way so far. We will see what the future brings. Of course, we are keeping our fingers crossed.’ Unterberger concludes.
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