According to Dan Millman “Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” This indeed reflect the success story of the Nigerian Football Champion, Kanu Nwankwo.
Nwankwo Christian Kanu was born on August 1st, 1976 in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria, to Iheme and Susan Kanu of Arochukwu in Abia State. He is a retired footballer who played as a forward for Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Dutch side Ajax, Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, and the Nigeria national team.
Kanu Nwankwo grew up in Owerri alongside his brothers; Christopher and Ogbonna, and stepbrothers; Anderson, Gabolamo and Henry Isaac. He attended basic school in Owerri, and began his career at the age of 15 playing for Nigerian league club, Federation Works, before moving to Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football club.
In 1993, he represented Nigeria at the FIFA Under 17 World Championships with his performances getting the attention of the elite European clubs. Months after the competition, he was signed by Ajax. He made his debut the following year and averaged a goal every other game. He also made a substitute appearance in the Champions League final against AC Milan in which they won.
In 1996, after a series of heroic performances with the Nigerian team that won gold in the Olympics, Inter Milan came calling and he was sold to the Italian giants that summer. That year, Kanu Nwankwo was named African Footballer of the Year.
After a disappointing spell in Italy with just twelve appearances and one goal, Kanu Nwankwo signed for Arsenal in 1999 where he revived his career. Known for his goal-scoring prowess as a substitute, scoring important goals, he became very popular among fans of the club for his two-fingered salute that was based on the team’s nickname, The Gunners. Also, he was named African Footballer of the Year in 1999.
He won the FA Cup in 2003 and the Premier League title in 2004 with Arsenal. He played 197 games for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals. Along with other famous players, such as Henry and Robert Pirès, Kanu is a member of the “Invincibles”, the Arsenal side that finished the 2003–04 season of the Barclays Premier League undefeated. In the summer of 2004, after his contract with Arsenal ended, he moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. In 2008, Kanu Nwankwo was voted 13th in the “Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players” poll.
At West Brom, he started as a regular and helped maintain the club’s Premier League status that year. After the expiration of his contract, He chose not to renew it. He made a total of fifty eight appearances, scoring nine goals. Kanu Nwankwo moved on to Portsmouth. He scored in both the FA Cup 1–0 semi-final win against West Bromwich Albion and the 1–0 win in the final against Cardiff City, earning him a third FA Cup winner’s medal.
Interestingly, Kanu Nwankwo was a member of the Nigerian national team from 1994 to 2010. As well as winning the Olympic gold, he participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On 24 June 2010, he ended his international career following Nigeria’s exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He won 86 caps and scored 13 goals 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. Kanu’s major accolades include 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 also one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Furthermore, after his Atlanta 1996 Gold Medal, Kanu returned to Inter Milan where he was diagnosed with a heart defect. He had surgery to replace an aortic valve and did not return to his club until April 1997. Kanu cites his faith as a Christian and has often mentioned that his faith/prayers to God helped him. Kanu’s experience led to his founding the Kanu Heart Foundation, an organisation that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects. The foundation has expanded to provide aid for homeless children. Kanu intends to see that five Kanu Heart Foundation hospitals are built in Africa to ease the problem of undetected heart disease and corrective surgery. Kanu is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Additionally, during his playing days, Kanu Nwankwo won numerous individual awards such as; the African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1999, BBC African Footballer of the Year: 1997 and 1999, and the International Federation of Football History Statistics legend award in 2016. At The News Sports Awards in 2011, he was a recpient of the lifetime achievement award for his fantastic charity work, his service with Pompey and his memorable FA Cup-winning strike in 2008. He also holds two national honours; Officer of the Order of the Niger, (OON) and Member of the Order of the Niger, (MON).
In all, against all odds and barriers, Kanu Nwankwo worked hard to become a football legend whose success story will forever stand the test of time.