Nwankwo Kanu (born 1 August 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. His Igbo name, Nwankwo, means “Babyboy born on nkwo market day”. He is the most highly-decorated African footballer in footballing history, having won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three F.A. Cup Winners Medals and two African Player of the Year awards amongst others. He is the only current Premiership player to have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Premiership, FA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal.
His younger brother, Christopher Kanu, is also a professional footballer.
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.
Kanu was a free agent following his departure from West Brom, and he signed for Portsmouth F.C. 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 2006-07 Premiership season. He scored twice and missed a penalty, then bagged another brace in his third appearance, a 4-0 win against Middlesbrough; this 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. He scored 12 goals that season.
In his second season at Portsmouth, Kanu scored goals 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 Man of The Match award and a third FA Cup winner’s medal. These goals also meant he joined the exclusive list of players who have scored at both the old and new Wembley stadiums. In a post match interview Kanu stated his desire to remain at the club, in turn Harry Redknapp suggested a new contract would be offered.
Kanu has been a member of the Nigerian national team since 1994, making his debut against Sweden in a friendly. He (as of March 2008) has 68 caps and has scored 13 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. 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 subsequent 2-1 victory over Ghana in the final.