Story by Ben Steele
Earlier this week we launched our “Party for Kanu” campaign so unsurprisingly the (allegedly) 35 year old Nigerian is the subject of this week’s player profile.
Name: Nwankwo Kanu
Date of birth: 1st August 1976
International Caps/Goals: 87/13
Born in Owerri, Nigeria Kanu is supposedly 35 years old now, although there is quite a lot of doubt over that due to somewhat sketchy birth records in the area that he was born in. Kanu’s career really took after he moved from Iwuanyanwu Nationale (good luck saying that) to Dutch giants Ajax in 1993. That Ajax team were highly talented, including names like The De Boer brothers, Clarence Seedorf and a pre-glasses Edgar Davids, and won the 1995 Champions league against AC Milan, Kanu was a 2nd half substitute in that game. He then went on to captain the Nigerian Olympic team at the Atlanta games of 1996, which saw the side win the gold medal. Kanu’s big moment of that Olympics came as he scored 2 late goals in a 4-3 victory over Brazil in the semi-final. Following the Olympics he was awarded the prize for African footballer of the year. Interest in Kanu was high and eventually Ajax sold him to Inter Milan for £4.7 million and it was there that his life changed.
During a routine medical test the doctors at Inter discovered a potentially fatal heart defect and it was thought that Kanu would have to retire from the game. But he made an incredible recovery and set up a foundation helping others affected by heart conditions. Recovering from his heart condition blighted his Inter Milan career and he was only able to make the 12 appearances before Arsene Wenger took a gamble and signed him for £4.15 million, bringing him to Arsenal in 1999. He made an immediate impact setting up Marc Overmars to score against Sheffield United in the FA Cup after the ball had been put out following an injury to a Sheffield United player. The game ended 2-1 but a replay was offered following the confusion.
His Arsenal career took off after that and he became an incredible impact substitute. He was named African footballer of the year for the 2nd time in 1999. His languid style of play, twinned with his impact Kanu became an instant fan favourite. The biggest highlight of his Arsenal career was inarguably scoring a 15 minute hat-trick against Chelsea to give The Gunners a 3-2 win after being 2-0 down.
Quite how he got round Ed De Goey for that 3rd goal I don’t really know. Kanu’s career continued for another few years, ending his career with 30 goals in his 119 appearances. While that record doesn’t look that impressive it must be noted that the majority of these appearances were as a substitute. In 2004 Kanu moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. Unfortunately his time at West Brom is predominantly remembered for this miss against Middlesbrough
And in 2006 he was sold to Portsmouth at the age of, supposedly, 29. Due to Portsmouth’s financial difficulties over the past few years and the heavy pay as you play nature of his contract Kanu’s appearances have been few and far between for Portsmouth but he did score the winning goal in the 2008 FA Cup final as Pompey beat Cardiff City to take home the trophy.
One of the best African players to have played in England and the all-time record holder for substitute appearances in the Premier League, lets #PartyforKanu!