Nwankwo Kanu (born August 1, 1976 in Owerri, Nigeria), usually known simply as Kanu, is a professional footballer who plays as a striker for the Nigerian national team and for English club Portsmouth. He is the most highly-decorated African footballer in footballing history, with over 10 awards to boast of, including a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal and two African Player of the Year awards. Between Arsenal's Double win in 2002, and Chelsea's FA Cup win in 2007, he was the only current Premiership player to have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Premiership, FA Cup and Olympic Gold Medal.
Kanu began his career, aged fifteen, at First Division club Federation Works before moving to Iwuanyanwu Nationale in 1992. After a notable performance at the U-17 World Championships he was signed by Ajax Amsterdam in 1993 for 207,047. He made his Ajax debut in 1994 and went on to play 54 times for the Dutch side, scoring 25 goals; Kanu came on as a sub in Ajax's 1995 Champions League final win over AC Milan. In 1996, Ajax sold him to Serie A side Internazionale for around $4.7 million; that summer he captained the Nigerian team that won gold at the Olympics, famously scoring two late goals in the semi-finals against powerhouses Brazil to overturn a 2-3 scoreline into a 4-3 win in extra time. Kanu was also named African Footballer of the Year for that year.
However, soon after returning from the Olympics, Kanu underwent a medical examination at Inter, which revealed a serious heart defect; he underwent surgery in November 1996 to replace an aortic valve and did not return to his club until April 1997. In interviews, Kanu frequently cites his faith as a Christian, and has often mentioned this trying time of his career as an occasion when he prayed to God. Kanu's experience also led to his founding the Kanu Heart Foundation, an organisation that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects. Kanu is known throughout Africa for his philanthropic work.
In February 1999, after just twelve games and one goal for Inter, Kanu was signed by Arsenal for approximately 4.2 million. His debut for Arsenal, against Sheffield United in the FA Cup, was a highly unusual match. With the score 1-1 and ten minutes to go, the United goalkeeper kicked the ball out of touch so that treatment could be given to an injured player. When the ball was thrown back into play by Ray Parlour, although it was intended for the United 'keeper, Kanu was unaware of the circumstances. Thinking it to be an attacking move, he chased the throw-in down the right wing unchallenged, and centred the ball for Marc Overmars, who promptly scored to make the match 2-1. Immediately after the match Arsenal manager Arsne Wenger offered to right the error and replay the match; in the end, Arsenal won that match 2-1 as well.
Despite the events overshadowing his debut, Kanu's career was quickly revived at Arsenal, especially after the departure of Nicolas Anelka in the summer of 1999. This prompted a new chant amongst Arsenal supporters: "Chim chiminy, chim chiminy, chim-chim chiroo, who needs Anelka when we've got Kanu?" (to the tune of the song from Mary Poppins). Kanu became known for scoring extravagant goals; against Tottenham Hotspur, with his back to goal he lobbed the ball over Luke Young's head, before turning the young defender and scoring. Other memorable goals included a hat-trick against Chelsea, in which one of the goals was scored from the goal line, to win a derby match 3-2 after being 2-0 down. Following his amazing performance the headline pun after the game was "Kanu believe it". He also scored a spectacular backheel flick against Middlesbrough and an amazing goal against Deportivo La Coruna, where given a one-on-one with the La Coruna goalkeeper, Kanu ran in a straight line towards the goal, completely fooling him in the process. He was named African Footballer of the Year for the second time in 1999, and in 1999-00 he scored 17 times in 50 matches for the Gunners. He became very popular among the fans for his 2 fingered salute, which started in 2000 against Middlesbrough. The fans often chanted 'Kanuuuuuuuu' (extentuating the syllable 'nu') whenever he scored or announced during matches; some mistook that he was being 'booed' rather than being cheered.
West Bromwich Albion
West Brom had just been promoted to the Premiership for the second time in the space of two years. Kanu started as a regular for West Brom, though in one of his first matches for West Brom, against Middlesbrough,[specify] Kanu was guilty of an incredible miss in injury time, with Albion a goal down. Manager Bryan Robson was seen in TV footage mouthing the words "How did he miss that?",and Kanu's howler was crowned 'Miss of the Season' by many television stations in the end-of-season reviews.
The 2004-5 season was a memorable one for West Brom, as they became the first club to avoid relegation from the Premiership after being bottom at Christmas. As a result, hopes were high for the 2005-6 season, but Albion failed to build on what they had achieved, and were relegated.
One of the few highlights of the season in this time for Kanu came with the visit of his former club Arsenal to The Hawthorns on 15 October 2005. Philippe Senderos put the visitors ahead in the 17th minute, but Kanu equalised shortly before half time. West Brom went on to win the match 2-1 with a spectacular strike from Darren Carter. It was their first home win over Arsenal in 33 years, and the first time that they had come from behind to win a Premiership game.
But such highlights were rare for Albion that season, and the club was relegated again at the end of 2005-06. Kanu's contract had expired, and he chose not to renew it. In his two years at The Hawthorns he made a total of 58 appearances - 16 of them as substitute - and scored nine goals.
In the summer of 2006, Kanu played as a guest for Arsenal in Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial game, the first match to be played in Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium. The game was tied 1-1 when Kanu scored the winning goal, making him only the third person to score in the stadium. At the end of the match, Kanu joined the rest of the Arsenal side in hoisting the retired Dutchman on their shoulders as fans gave him a standing ovation
Nwankwo Kanu playing for Portsmouth at Fulham in March 2007Kanu was a free agent following his departure from West Brom, and he signed for Portsmouth F.C. shortly before the start of the 2006-7 season. Pompey had undergone a revival in the second half of the previous campaign, following the return of Harry Redknapp as manager, avoiding relegation by four points after being in serious danger at the turn of the year. At the start of the 2006-07 season, they were undefeated in their first five games, during which they did not concede a single goal.
Kanu made his debut for Portsmouth as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers on 19 August 2006, the opening day of the 2006-07 Premiership season. He scored twice and missed a penalty, then bagged another brace in his third appearance against Middlesbrough in the 4-0 thrashing, it included a 60-yard sprint followed by an exquisite finish. After scoring goals in the initial matches, Kanu had a goal drought for most of the season, but still finished as the top goalscorer for Pompey. Kanu had 10 goals in 36 matches and had 3 assists as well
Kanu has been a member of the Nigerian national team since 1994, making his debut against Sweden in a friendly. He (as of September 2005) has over 40 caps and has scored more than 10 goals for his country. As well as winning the Olympics gold in the football event at Atlanta (1996), Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. However, Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup as they crashed out to Angola, on head-to-head results after finishing level on points. Kanu played an influential part as a "supersub" in Nigeria's qualifying campaign, and turned several games around in an attempt to salvage a World Cup spot but despite Nigeria's 5-1 home win over Zimbabwe even as Kanu scored on a penalty and created another, Angola beat Rwanda 1-0 with just minutes to go to top Group 4. Earlier on at the start of his career, Kanu was instrumental in Nigeria's overall success at the FIFA U-17 tournament in Japan (1993) and in their 2-1 victory over Ghana in the final.