Nwankwo Christian Nwosu Kanu (born 1 August 1976 in Owerri, Nigeria), is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays as a striker for English Premier League club Portsmouth and the Nigerian national team. He is the most decorated African footballer in history, having 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 the only current Premier League player to have won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Premier League, FA Cup and an 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. 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 has been a member of the Nigerian national team since 1994, making his debut against Sweden in a friendly. He (as of October 18, 2009) has 79 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.
In February 1999, after just twelve games and one goal for Inter, Kanu was signed by Arsenal for approximately £4.15 million. 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 to win a derby match 3-2 after being 2-0 down after 75 minutes Following his amazing performance the headline pun after the game was “Kanu believe it”.
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. In the summer of 2004, after his contract with Arsenal ended, he moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. Kanu signed for Portsmouth F.C. on a one-year deal shortly before the start of the 2006-07 season. He made his debut for Portsmouth as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers on 19 August 2006, the opening day of the 2006-07 Premier League season.
He is the current captain of the Nigerian national team.
Two years ago Kanu joined the prestigious league of UNICEF Goodwill ambassadors who speak and advocate for children across the world. The appointment is renewable every two years after a review of the Ambassador’s tenure and his availability to continue to work for children. In the last two years, as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, Nwankwo Kanu has used his fame, resources and personal capacity to promote the cause of children and get the attention of all sectors of society on the need to create a protective environment for children. These past two years, Nwankwo Kanu has been involved in the Children and AIDS campaign, visiting a UNICEF-supported project for orphans and vulnerable children in Enugu and helping to raise funds with private Sector companies during a special corporate football tournament. He joined other celebrities worldwide in a campaign video message that heralded the launch of the Children and AIDS campaign in New York.