SCORENigeria publishes the concluding part of the exclusive interview with Nwankwo Kanu by Sab Osuji in which he now speaks on whether Arsene Wenger, the man who signed him for Arsenal, should continue to lead the London Gunners even though he last won the Premier League in the 2003/04 season.
He also touches on his two sons who are trying to follow in his footsteps as well as whether another Nigeria star could soon be named CAF Footballer of the Year 18 years since he last accomplished that feat.
SCORENIGERIA: You won many trophies during your illustrious career, at U17, U20, U23, senior level including at club level in Europe. Tell me, where are those medals today? Where can you tell someone that you kept them, in the bank, insurance or where?
You want me to say it? If I do they will go there oo! (laughs). They are around, you keep them, preserve them because they are what you cherish so much and that is what you want your little ones growing up to see.
Right now I have three kids, two are boys and they are playing football and a girl. Pressure is already on them apparently to toe my success path. Each time they come back, I will take the medals and show them. This is for U17; do you know this? That is that.
So, when they are growing they know what their dad has done. Like you said, these are precious items you keep, even if you are in this world no more, people who are coming through, their grand, grand-son will see and say, wao! my grand dad was a wonderful, successful player who has done this or that.
For me, that is why I keep those items and they are there very intact. Even if you are going to be 70, 80, 90 years, you just see them because they are there for the memory.
Are they in the bank, with an insurance company or where?
The important thing is that you keep them because they are unique and worth a lot of money. It is important for you to go out there and achieve it and be happy with yourself that you have done something remarkably great.
Arsene Wenger signed you in Arsenal in 1999. People have called for his head having spent over 20 years with the club. As an ex-player of the club, what is your position on this?
In terms of years, yes, Wenger has stayed long, but it is for the board of the club to decide. They are the only authority that will say if Wenger stays or should leave.
Every Arsenal fan wants the Premier League trophy, they have won enough of the FA Cup.
But mind you, whatever I say does not matter. It does not change anything. If the board wants the league and believe they need to buy players, fine and good. I believe they have players in the squad.
As a true Arsenal fan, an ex-player of the club for that matter, I want them to make waves, to achieve something.
If as a player, I’m playing for a club, sometimes it is not the coach that you look at. You look at yourself and say I want to win the league. And as a team sport, every player should stand up and ask ‘what is happening to us’.
For instance, if Nigeria didn’t qualify for the World Cup today, you know everybody will almost kill the coach. Then you ask yourself, the players, what are they doing? They have to stand up and do something. So that’s the way I see football.
I don’t see football from the point that only the coach will have to do this, do that, no. If you have good players and they believe they are good, then they have to show you they are good, not only showing the coach, but as well the whole club that they are good.
You did say your two kids are currently into football, can you tell us the stage they are at the moment?
The first one, Shawn Chukwudi Kanu, is with Watford Football Academy. He has been there since he was like nine years and he is doing well.
I do bring them back home to Nigeria sometimes to feel the physical side of football. It is like they are mixing it up together and of course, you know this is the stage of learning. He is going close to 13 (years).
Then the other one was 10 years last August. He is also playing in a club.
But they are two different players, one is very strong.
Like I said, the doors are open to them, they need to work hard, they need to see the pressure coming and they need to be focused. But if you ask me, they are doing very, very well.
During the burial of your mother on December 3, 2016, in Arochukwu, Abia State, in your funeral oration, you recalled that your mother once told you she knew one day you would make her proud. You went ahead to really do her proud.
Tell me, today, can you look anyone in the face and tell him or her that one day he or she will make you proud and who is that person?
(Laughs) That’s a good one. Of course, that is exactly what I tell my son. My mom said that to me, my dad said so to me, so why not, I had to pass it on to my young ones who are coming up.
I always say to them, even when they were 8, 9, that they will make me proud. I can see it in them that they can be greater than their dad.
That’s my prayers. When I’m saying it, I’m also praying and it surely going to happen. Like you asked me, I always tell them they will make me and the family proud.
Tell us your most difficult moment so far in life.
It was when I went to the hospital and was told I have a heart problem. I was on top of the world in terms of football and you just have started achieving what you want to achieve and suddenly you are not going to play football any more. Of course, it was a very big shock.
We just came back from the Olympics to Nigeria and everybody was like, wao, we have touched the football skies and everybody was screaming Kanu! Kanu!! Kanu!!! Endorsements were coming from left, right and center and clubs were after me looking for me and all those stuff and then suddenly somebody says you cannot play football any more.
But as a Christian, I kept the faith, praying and my family also kept praying.
That was my hardest time. For me to go through it and God brought me back, then I started winning more trophies than I had won earlier, achieving more than I had done I had to thank God that really nothing was going to shake me.
That was why I set up the Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF), which has as at today done 540 successful heart surgeries, meaning we have saved 540 lives.
The most important thing I tell people is that I’m a footballer, I won trophies, I make people proud, but the greatest achievement I can say I have made is that today I can count 540 lives that I have saved.
You saving life, even if it is just one, means a lot more than trophies. Yes, trophies are good, but life is so precious, because you don’t have two lives but one. And for me to do that today, I think I have accomplished everything.
Then tell us your happiest moment so far in life.
There are lots of them, not just one. First knowing you come from a very hard back ground, a most difficult one for that matter. And that was what inspires me today to encourage and advice young ones in the grassroot, direct them in the most positive way so that they can be focused and move up in life.
If one succeeds in a community, I believe that community is already blessed and the family is blessed too.
And today, the happiest moment of Mr Nwankwo Kanu is when I saw myself coming out of Nigeria to travel to Europe.
I think that was the biggest achievement I have done, it was the turning point in my life and on reaching there, I didn’t disappoint. I really worked hard for it and if you look at it, every person has a beginning. And if that beginning is not good, that is the end of you.
If you are to take back the hand of the clock and you have to restart your career afresh, what would you bring anew?
Experience. The more you grow, the more you add age, the more you get experience. Unfortunately you cannot reverse life. If you ask me, what I’m seeing now, the way I’m seeing things now, is completely different from time past, so I believe those top on the younger ones have a big role to play.
You see, now I’m a Nigerian, an Ambassador of Nigerian football and I’m a Nigerian who has done a lot, won a lot of trophies. I cannot sit back and be looking at the youths coming up, no. That is why you see me every day supporting the U17s, like the way I’m supporting the national team.
I’m a proud green-white-green person who cannot sit back and see all these achievements and experiences go by. That is why whenever I have opportunity to go to a team, I talk to the players, coaches and whoever I can positively to become a great player or person in life.
You won the African Footballer of the Year 1999. What do you think is wrong with our football or footballers that 18 years after we have not been able to see another Nigerian player reach that glorious height? Again, is there any Nigerian player you think can win that award in the nearest future?
We have a very good team now in this present Super Eagles. In terms of players we have some very, very good young players and I see these young players achieving even much more than I have achieved if we can keep them; if we can nurture them, if we can make them believe that this is their time to do the same.
So if you ask me, playing in a good club is good. It counts as well but representing your country is very important as well because all these are what people look at and say this is the African Footballer of the Year.
So, in our years when we were playing, you can recall we were all playing in very big clubs out there in Europe. You could see the national team was doing very, very well then. The national team is doing well now, before it was a case of we didn’t qualify for this, we didn’t qualify for that tournament. At club level, some of the players were doing well, some are not so if you look at it properly, it will was difficult for us to get somebody to be African Footballer of the Year.
But now that our national team is doing well, the players are doing well and playing in big clubs in Europe, I can say yes, it is very possible for us to produce an African Footballer of the Year.
Thank you ‘Papilo’ for sharing your thoughts with us.
Thank you for having me.
By Sab Osuji