Nwankwo Kanu has not stopped flying Nigeria’s flag many years after he turned his back on an illustrious career – from headlining his heart foundation to his second-tier football club to his campaign for improved fortunes for Nigeria football.
‘Papilo’, 41 today, has defied the odds to become a worthy reference point for the beautiful game in Nigeria and far beyond.
His charisma and goodwill make him a bankable property many years after he hung up his boots.
He is one of Nigeria’s most decorated football stars after he won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax Amsterdam in 1995, a superb double with Arsenal as well as leading little Portsmouth to a fairy tale-ending FA Cup triumph at Wembley.
All these feats looked like they would not happen after he was diagnosed with a career-ending heart problem at Italian club Inter Milan just months after he had led Nigeria to an historic Olympic soccer Gold in Atlanta in 1996.
Harry Redknapp simply called Kanu ‘King’ when he was his manager at Portsmouth, while former West Bromwich boss Bryan Robson described the former Eagles skipper as a class act.
Two-time CAF African Footballer of the Year Kanu has always acknowledged the grace of God in his life and illustrious career.
“I have nothing to prove to anyone,” Kanu said in an interview at the twilight of his playing career.
“The only thing I know how to do is play football and help my team as much as I can.
“The fact that there are people out there who say lot of things doesn’t get to me, when God blesses you, then you owe no one any explanation.
“I have important things to do than worry about what people say.”
Former Super Eagles teammate Benedict Akwuegbu recounted to SCORENigeria that Kanu’s career path could well have taken another direction had he gone ahead to work with a Belgian agent after he helped Nigeria to win the 1993 FIFA U17 World Cup in Japan.
“He signed an agreement with Belgian agent Andre de Nul, same too Celestine Babayaro and Peter Anosike after the U17 World Cup in Japan. But he later opted to take up the offer by Ajax Amsterdam and, as they say, the rest of is now history.”
But after all the titles, records and accolades he achieved on the pitch, there was one thing he failed to do – score in an AFCON final tournament.
PROFILE NWANKWO KANU
TWO-TIME CAF PLAYER OF THE YEAR
3 DUTCH LEAGUE TITLES, UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 1995, 1995 CLUB WORLD CUP, UEFA SUPER CUP (AJAX); UEFA CUP (INTER MILAN); 2 PREMIER LEAGUE TITLES, 2 FA CUP,FA COMMUNITY SHIELD (ARSENAL); FA CUP (PORTSMOUTH)
EAGLES DEBUT: VS SWEDEN FRIENDLY, MAY 1994
INTERNATIONAL HONOURS: GOLD, 1996 OLYMPICS; SILVER, NATIONS CUP 2000;BRONZE, NATIONS CUP 2002,2004, 2006, 2010;WORLD CUP APPEARANCES 1998, 2002, 2010;GOLD, FIFA U-17 CHAMPIONSHIP 1993