The Scenic Route from Mainz to Mainz – Anthony Ujah Returns

Though he’s better known for his time at 1. FC Köln where he scored 36 goals in 102 appearances, celebrated the club’s promotion as 2. Bundesliga champions, and infamously celebrated a goal by grabbing mascot Hennes by the horns, Anthony Ujah’s time in Germany began at 1. FSV Mainz.

After stints at SV Werder Bremen and Liaoning Whowin FC of the Chinese Super League, Ujah has returned to Mainz on a free transfer. The move came with a new contract with the FSV into 2021.

“I am incredibly pleased to return to Mainz,” said Ujah upon his signing.  “I have only good memories from my time there. I also am excited for the Bundesliga. I want to help the team reach the sporting goals of the club in the Rückrunde.”

Ujah was available on a free transfer this winter due to Liaoning’s relegation from the Super League following a last-place finish. Talk of a return to Germany was sparked when Ujah was spotted at Rheinenergiestadion as a spectator for Köln’s match with Hoffenheim, just one day after Liaoning had played its final match of the season. When asked by Bonner Generalanzeiger whether his lack of a valid contract and his appearance in Köln had anything to do with the next step in his career, he replied that he was planning to “take vacation and then find something new.” When asked about a potential return to Köln, he said only, “We’ll see.”

With Köln announcing Tuesday they had brought Simon Terodde, another former player, into the team preparing for a desperate second-half relegation battle, perhaps the most-obvious door for Ujah had been closed, but the next day proved that Ujah had likely been considering multiple venues since the early November end to his season in Asia.

Ujah first arrived to Mainz in the summer of 2011 from Lilleström SK at the age of 20. In 36 Tippeligaen matches, the young Nigerian delivered 27 goals, including 12 in the first 13 matches of the 2011 season. Ujah’s hot streak had reportedly drawn interest from several clubs, including Hoffenheim, PSV Eindhoven, Club Brugge, RSC Anderlecht, and several French sides, but it was Mainz who came away the winner and breaking Lilleström’s club record for a sale with what was reportedly to be about 25 million Krone (nearly €3 million).

After just 12 league appearances in his first season in Mainz, the move that led to Ujah’s career breakthrough arrived on the final day of the 2012 transfer window in the form of a loan to 1. FC Köln. The Billy Goats had been relegated from the Bundesliga a few months earlier and were already in the relegation zone of the 2. Bundesliga, managing but a single goal, a penalty, from their first four matches of the 2012-13 season.

Powered largely by Ujah’s team-best 13 goals, Köln rose steadily through the second-division table following Ujah’s arrival and insertion as the primary, and often lone, striker in trainer Holger Stanislawski’s team. The team lingered in fourth place for most of March and April, even managing to spend a match day in third, to give hopes of a direct return to the Bundesliga. Consecutive losses in match days 32 and 33, however, assured Köln they would have to wait at least one more year to return to the top flight.

New sporting director Jörg Schmadtke secured Ujah’s services permanently with a €2.4 million after the loan expired, and new fan-favorite “Tony” proved a consistent force for his new club, delivering eleven goals to lead Köln to the 2013-14 2. Bundesliga title and promotion to the Bundesliga. He proved his talents were not limited to lower-tier competition the following season when he contributed ten more to help Köln to a comfortable mid-table finish after a season in which the newcomers never dropped below 14th.

Consistent production for a team as defensively oriented as Peter Stöger’s sides was bound to catch the attention of other clubs, but nobody in Köln was prepared for a the morning shock received on May 7, 2015, when they were met with images of their favorite Kölsche Jung standing beneath a green and white sign proclaiming “100% Werder.”

Another double-digit goal output in his one season in Bremen coincided with the early days of Chinese Super League clubs paying top-Yuan for proven talent from Europe’s top leagues, so just one year after paying just over €4 million to acquire him, Werder received over €10 million to send their striker to China.

Just 18 months later, Ujah has circled back to Germany with hopes of boosting one of the league’s most-anemic attacks. Mainz currently sit 15th, but are just two points above Hamburg in 17th, a direct-relegation spot. Oft-injured Yoshinori Muto leads the team with three goals and missed four matches late in the Hinrunde (back issues). Should Muto miss more time, Ujah has proven he can produce in the Bundesliga as the lone attacker, but Muto also showed great potential in tandem with another effective attacker when he and Yunus Malli formed the “M&M Attack” to help Mainz to the Europa League through a sixth place finish in 2015-16.

However he is ultimately utilized, Mainz Sporting Director Rouven Schroeder is confident he has landed someone who will be of immediate help.

“Anthony Ujah is an athletic, determined, and strong-finishing attacker, who already has proven his qualities at a Bundesliga level and offers genuine value to our team,” said Schroeder through a club announcement. “He is a cool character and will need no real adaptation period to the club. We are happy that he decided on a future for himself with Mainz 05.”

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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