Nwankwo Kanu, OON nicknamed Papiloo or simply know as Kanu is a retired Nigerian footballer who played as a forward most notably for Arsenal.
He was born on the 1st of August, 1976 in Owerri, Nigeria. Kanu is of the Igbo tribe and his name, Nwankwo, means Child born on Nkwo market day in the Igbo language.
Early Life/Playing Career
He began playing football at 15 at Nigerian league club, Federation Works, before moving to Iwuanyanwu Nationale. He represented his country at the 1993 FIFA Under 17 World Championships with his performances getting the attention of the elite European clubs.
In 1993, he was signed by Ajax. He made his debut the following year and averaged a goal every other game. He also made a substitute appearance in the Champions League final against AC Milan in which they won.
In 1996, after a series of heroic performances with the Nigerian team that won gold in the Olympics, Inter Milan came calling and he was sold to the Italian giants that summer. That year, Kanu was named African Footballer of the Year.
Kanu At Arsenal
After a disappointing spell in Italy with just twelve appearances and one goal, Kanu signed for Arsenal in 1999 where he revived his career. He was known for his goal-scoring prowess as a substitute, scoring important goals.
He became very popular among fans of the club for his two-fingered salute that was based on the team’s nickname, The Gunners. He was again named African Footballer of the Year in 1999.
Kanu won the FA Cup in 2003 and the Premier League title in 2004 with Arsenal. He played 197 games for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals. Along with other famous players, such as Henry and Robert Pirès, Kanu is a member of the “Invincibles”, the Arsenal side that finished the 2003–04 season of the Barclays Premier League undefeated.
In the summer of 2004, after his contract with Arsenal ended, he moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. In 2008, Kanu was voted 13th in the “Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players” poll.
At West Brom, Kanu started as a regular and helped maintain the club’s Premier League status that year. The club got relegated at the end of the 2005/06 year with Kanu’s contract expiring. He chose not to renew it. He made a total of fifty eight appearances, scoring nine goals.
Kanu moved on to Portsmouth. He scored in both the FA Cup 1–0 semi-final win against West Bromwich Albion and the 1–0 win in the final against Cardiff City, earning him a third FA Cup winner’s medal.
The End Of International Football For Kanu
Kanu was a member of the Nigerian national team from 1994 to 2010. As well as winning the Olympic gold, Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On 24 June 2010, Kanu ended his international career following Nigeria’s exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
He won 86 caps and scored 13 goals for his country and was the joint most capped Nigerian player of all-time alongside Muda Lawal, until Joseph Yobo surpassed both players in 2012, winning his 87th cap.
Kanu’s major accolades include a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals and two African Player of the Year awards amongst others. He is also one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Heart Issues / Philanthropy
After his Atlanta 1996 Gold Medal, Kanu returned to Inter Milan where he was diagnosed with a heart defect. He had surgery to replace an aortic valve and did not return to his club until April 1997.
Kanu cites his faith as a Christian and has often mentioned that his faith/prayers to God helped him. Kanu’s experience led to his founding the Kanu Heart Foundation, an organisation that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects.
The foundation has expanded to provide aid for homeless children. Kanu intends to see that five Kanu Heart Foundation hospitals are built in Africa to ease the problem of undetected heart disease and corrective surgery. Kanu is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.