Karim Adeyemi: From Bayern Munich rejection to Salzburg sensation

Karim Adeyemi NxGnGoal

Teenage footballers deal with rejection in different ways. Being cast aside by the club you have dreamed of representing can be tough at any age, but particularly for those who are perhaps too young to fully understand why.

The majority of those youngsters eventually slip out of the game completely, playing only in their leisure time.

Others are able to make professional careers for themselves, albeit at a lower level than they may have hoped for.

The tiny few, however, are able to deal with such disappointment and channel it as such that they can go onto fulfil their potential elsewhere, becoming a household name the world over in the process.

For Karim Adeyemi, the signs are that he will follow the third path, with the German forward recovering from release by Bayern Munich to become one of the brightest prospects in European football.

The 18-year-old - who earlier this week was named as one of the top 50 teenage footballers on the planet in Goal's annual NxGn list - is currently plying his trade at Red Bull Salzburg and is being tipped to follow in the footsteps of Erling Haaland and use the Austrian giants as a stepping stone to one of the continent's biggest clubs.

Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal have all already been credited with interest despite Adeyemi only making his senior debut for Salzburg in February, having spent the first half of the season on loan with FC Liefering in the Austrian second division, and the likelihood of him one day coming up against Bayern at the highest level grows with every eye-catching performance he puts in.

It is all a far cry away from his humble beginnings at local club Forstenried, though he would not be there long once the reigning Bundesliga champions got him in their sights.

"The football boots and equipment in general that I had at the beginning were not that great," he tells Goal of his time at Forstenried. "We didn't play on the grass either, but on the red earth or on the rubber court. But these were not in the foreground for me at the time - the most important thing was to get to know the boys and play together.

"In winter we often had small indoor tournaments where I could show myself, and Bayern scouts were present. They contacted my parents and offered me a trial. Since I'm from Munich and Bayern is the best club in the city, it used to be my favourite club, I was really happy to get the chance to play with the best young players in Munich. My idol has always been Arjen Robben. The way he went one-on-one and his precise shots on goal impressed me.

Karim Adeyemi Germany 2019Getty Images

"I would not say that I was particularly nervous. I was just playing football and at that moment I wasn't really concerned with whether I would be accepted or not. The training was very different, much more intensive and structured. At Forstenried there were a lot of players, while at Bayern the groups were smaller. In short, the quality and conditions were simply higher."

Despite impressing his coaches on the field, away from the pitch issues began to arise with Adeyemi's family and the Bayern hierarchy while there are claims that his own behaviour began to deteriorate; so much so that he was eventually let go by the five-time European champions.

"At Bayern it quickly became clear that there was a precise plan. If you, as a player, stepped out of line or did not stick to this plan, you usually received little support," Adeyemi reveals. "I don't think the club is betting on players who have their own ideas how to attack. Ultimately, however, every club deals with this topic differently. I don't want to judge which way is the right way. After all, Bayern are an absolutely top club.

"It remains to be seen whether they [Bayern] felt I had a lack of discipline. I don't think that was the decisive factor. It just didn't fit with Bayern anymore. We didn't get along so well anymore. The relationship between my parents and the sports director at the time was no longer as it should be. But that's yesterday's news.

"Of course I was sad at first, but shortly afterwards I just continued playing football and decided to go back to my old club in Forstenried. After a tournament in which scouts from Unterhaching were present, they came up to me and wanted to sign me."

It was at Unterhaching where Adeyemi met the man who would go onto mentor him throughout his early teenage years, Manfred Schwabl.

Once a midfielder for both Bayern and 1860 Munich, Schwabl is now the president of Unterhaching, who themselves enjoyed a brief stint in the Bundesliga around the turn of the century having spent the majority of their existence in Germany's lower tiers.

Schwabl noted the behavioural issues that were plaguing Adeyemi's progress and ensured that his young charge was placed on the right path both on and off the field, even going as far as to ban him from training until he had evidence that his attitude at school had improved.

"I was a very active child who needed a lot of leeway," recalls Adeyemi, who is now hopeful of completing his high school diploma later in life. "I couldn't keep still and always had to move. Then there was the fact that school was never easy for me. That not only got on my parents' nerves, but also got on his [Schwabl's] nerves.

Karim Adeyemi GFXGetty/Goal

"There were often discussions about school, including with the club. At some point we got it right. My excuse has always been: 'The teacher is to blame'. I'm not a guy who can sit and watch at school for hours. I think I have now understood that I was responsible."

Finally understanding what was required to make it to the top of the game, Adeyemi began to catch the eye of a number of top European clubs. Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig all monitored his progress as he came through the ranks at Unterhaching while Chelsea even invited him and his family to London to spend some time at their Cobham training ground.

It was Salzburg, though, who eventually secured his signing, spending a reported €3 million to add the 16-year-old to a system that is becoming increasingly famous as a football finishing school.

"I think it doesn't matter which club you play at - football offers a great platform overall," Adeyemi admits. "If you are a good player who steps on the gas and shows their best in their performance, the clubs will see it.

"I decided to continue playing at Unterhaching because I felt very comfortable. A move to Chelsea would not have been a sensible step at the time. Of course I am happy when such clubs signal interest, but I just wanted to play football. My team-mates were always behind me. Of course it is a bit uncomfortable when the other players ask: 'Is it true that club X is interested?'. I was often asked about it at school. I didn't really want to talk about that."

On choosing Salzburg, he adds: "It was important for my parents and me that my new club had a plan for me. That was the case with Red Bull Salzburg. The style of play and the philosophy convinced me.

Karim Adeyemi

"I don't have to prove anything to anyone, just myself. I was very relaxed and just played football. The fee, if it is true, honoured me rather than being a burden. I was always told by my parents and those responsible in Unterhaching to stay grounded. A lot of emphasis is also placed on this in Salzburg. It is no help if you lose your grip."

Adeyemi's first 18 months in Austria were split between playing senior football for Liefering, who act as a sister club for Salzburg, and junior matches for Salzburg's youth team, with his performances in this season's UEFA Youth League particularly catching the eye.

Those displays, coupled with the departures of both Haaland and Takumi Minamino in January, saw Adeyemi recalled and handed a new contract before making his maiden first-team appearance as a substitute in front of 50,000 fans against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europea League last month.

"I was really happy and motivated," he says. "At that moment, only one thing was going through my head: 'Run until you can run no more'. It was absolutely amazing.

"[Coach Jesse Marsch said] that I should step on the gas and not show fear. I think that in the first game as a professional against such a backdrop it is really difficult to completely block out the crowd. You are overwhelmed by the whole scene, but I still managed to stay focused.

"I want to play a lot more games at Red Bull Salzburg and show who I am before, in my own time, play in a top league one day. My goal is to be on the pitch with the best players in the world."

Given his early career to date, that is an ambition that seems likely to come to fruition for Adeyemi. He may even fall into that 'best player in the world' bracket himself.

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