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Nwankwo Kanu, OON (born 1 August 1976), or simply Kanu , is a retired Nigerian footballer who played as a forward. He was a member of the Nigerian national team. Kanu is a native of Abia State, southeast Nigeria, and a member of the Aro sub-group of the Igbo ethnic group. Nwankwo means “Child born on Nkwo market day” in the Igbo language.

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Kanu played for Nigerian team Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Dutch side Ajax, Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth.

Kanu won 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 one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal He made the third-most substitute appearances in Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times,and is regarded as one of the best players in African football history.

Club career

Early career

Born in Owerri, Nigeria, Kanu began his career at Nigerian league club Federation Works, before moving to Iwuanyanwu Nationale. After a notable performance at the U-18 World Championships he was signed by Dutch Eredivisie AFC Ajax in 1993 for an undisclosed fee. He made his Ajax debut that year and went on to score 25 goals in 54 appearances. Kanu also came on as a sub in Ajax’s 1995 Champions League final win over AC Milan.

Inter

In 1996, Ajax sold Kanu to Serie A side Inter Milan for around $4.7 million. That summer he captained the Nigerian team that won gold at the Olympics, and scored 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 and whose work was expanded to provide aid for homeless children in 2008.

Arsenal

In February 1999, after just twelve games and one goal for Inter, Kanu was signed by Arsenal for approximately £4.15 million. He made his debut for Arsenal, against Sheffield United in the FA Cup. With the score 1–1 and ten minutes to go, the Sheffield United goalkeeper Alan Kelly kicked the ball out of touch so that treatment could be given to Lee Morris. When the ball was thrown back into play by Ray Parlour, although it was intended for Kelly, Kanu chased the throw-in down the right wing unchallenged and centered the ball for Marc Overmars, who scored to make the match 2–1. After the match, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger accepted that it was not right sport-wise and offered to re-play the match which was again won by Arsenal.

Despite the events overshadowing his debut, Kanu’s career was quickly revived at Arsenal. He scored his first goal for the club in the next round of the cup against Derby County, coming off the bench to net the only goal of the game. He quickly became known for his goalscoring prowess from the bench, scoring important goals against Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa as a substitute. He became very popular among the fans for his two-fingered salute which started in 1999 against Middlesbrough – something that he later explained was based on the team’s nickname, The Gunners.[

West Bromwich Albion

West Brom had just been promoted to the FA Premier League for the second time in the space of two years. Kanu started as a regular for the club, making his debut in a 1–1 draw away at Blackburn Rovers on 14 August 2004. He scored his first goal for Albion on 18 September 2004, an 88th-minute equalizer in a 1–1 home draw against Fulham. In a match against Middlesbrough on 14 November 2004, Kanu was guilty of an incredible miss in injury time, with Albion 2–1 down. Kanu had sent a low cross over the bar from a yard away from the goal line. 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 media outlets in their end-of-season reviews. Nevertheless, the 2004–05 season was ultimately a memorable one for West Brom, as they became the first club to avoid relegation from the Premier League after being bottom of the table at Christmas

Portsmouth

Kanu was a free agent following his departure from West Brom, and he signed for Portsmouth on a one-year deal shortly before the start of the 2006–07 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 2006–2007 Premier League season. He scored twice and missed a penalty. Kanu went on to finish the season as the top goalscorer for Portsmouth, with 12 goals altogether. He then signed a new one year deal with the club.

International career

Kanu was a member of the Nigerian national team from 1994 to 2010, making his debut in friendly against Sweden. Earlier on at the start of his career, Kanu was instrumental in Nigeria’s overall success at the 1993 FIFA U-17 tournament in Japan and their subsequent 2–1 victory over Ghana in the final. With five goals, he was second joint-scorer in the tournament with Peter Anosike and Manuel Neira, behind compatriot and Captain Wilson Oruma.

As well as winning the Olympic gold in the football event at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he scored the winning goal in the 4–3 semi-final win over Brazil, his second goal of the match. 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. Nigeria lost their group matches against Argentina and Greece, before a 2–2 draw with South Korea ended their stay in the tournament. 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.

Honours

Club

Iwuanyanwu Nationale

  • Nigerian Premier League: 1992–93

Ajax

  • Eredivisie: 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96
  • UEFA Champions League: 1994–95
  • UEFA Super Cup: 1995
  • Intercontinental Cup: 1995

Inter Milan

  • UEFA Cup: 1997–98

Arsenal

  • Premier League: 2001–02, 2003–04
  • FA Cup: 2001–02, 2002–03
  • FA Community Shield: 1999

Portsmouth

  • FA Cup: 2007–08

International

Nigeria Youth

  • FIFA U-17 World Cup: 1993
  • Olympic Gold Medal: 1996

Nigeria

  • Afro-Asian Cup of Nations: 1995
  • African Cup of Nations runner-up: 2000

Individual

  • African Footballer of the Year: 1996, 1999
  • BBC African Footballer of the Year: 1997, 1999
  • IFFHS Legends
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