Monday, June 13, 2011

Nwankwo Kanu retires

After almost two decades of top-flight football, Nwankwo Kanu (a.k.a) Papilo on June 1, took a bow from the game that not only brought him into limelight but also wealth and fame in a testimonial match in Lagos that was a collection of the greatest African players.

The venue of the testimonial - Teslim Balogun - a venue aptly named after the first Nigerian professional footballer, was a befitting venue for a showpiece game in honour of the most decorated footballer to have come out of Nigeria.

Kanu became a household name in the country in 1993 after propelling the Nigeria Under-17 team to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the second time Nigerian will be winning the trophy. He was a member of the senior national team, the Super Eagles for 16 years from 1994 until 2010, scoring 13 goals in 86 appearances. He was named CAF African best player in 1996 and 1999. He was also named BBC African Footballer of the Year in 1997 and 1999.

After the U-17 triumph, he moved to Holland where he won three Eredivisie titles in 1994, 1995 and 1996 with Ajax. He also won both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup with the same club in 1995 before leading Nigeria to Olympic gold at Atlanta 1996. Afterwards, he was diagnosed with a life- threatening heart condition when he moved to Inter but recovered to win the UEFA Cup in 1998. In 1999, Kanu made his move to Arsenal where he won two Premier League titles in 2002 and 2004 and two FA Cups in 2002 and 2003. He had earlier won the Community Shield with the Gunners in 1999. Among the titles won was the Nigeria Premier League with Iwuayanwu Nationale, now Heartland in 1993. Kanu won his last major trophy, the FA Cup, with Portsmouth in 2008, where he scored the winning goal against Cardiff City.

He was born August 1, 1976, in Owerri, where began his career 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 Dutch Eredivisie AFC Ajax in 1993 for €207,047. He made his Ajax debut the following 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. In 1996, Ajax sold Kanu to Serie A side Internazionale 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 powerhouse Brazil to overturn a 2-3 scoreline into a 4-3 win in extra time. 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 11 games and one goal for Inter, Kanu was signed by Arsenal for approximately £4.15 million. 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 goal-scoring prowess from the bench, scoring important goals against Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa as a substitute. He scored 17 times in 50 matches for the Gunners, Including three goals in 15 minutes against Chelsea to turn a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 victory. However, Kanu's appearances for Arsenal gradually became less frequent, particularly after the emergence of Thierry Henry as Arsenal's first choice striker, when Kanu was mainly used as a substitute. In all, he played 197 games for Arsenal (nearly half of them as a substitute), scoring 44 goals. In the summer of 2004, after his contract with Arsenal ended, he moved to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. In 2008 Kanu was voted 13th in the "Gunners' Greatest 50 Players" poll.

In his two years at The Hawthorns, he made a total of 58 appearances - 16 of them as a substitute - and scored nine goals.

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. He made his debut for Portsmouth as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers on August 19, 2006, the opening day of the 2006-2007 Premier League season. He scored twice and missed a penalty. Though Kanu led the top scorers chart early in the season, he had a goal drought for the rest of the season, but still finished as the top goalscorer for Portsmouth, with 12 goals.

In his second season at Portsmouth, Kanu 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.

His first goal of the 2008-09 season put Portsmouth 2-0 up in their eventual 2-2 UEFA Cup draw with Italian club Milan. He later scored the winning goal against Bolton Wanderers which ensured Pompey's mathematical safety. It was his only Premier League goal of 2008-2009. He re-signed with Pompey in August 2010 with an eye on becoming a coach when he retired. Kanu signed a three-year deal and will keep the number 27 shirt.

Kanu was a member of the Super Eagles from 1994 until 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 Olympics gold in the football event at 1996 Olympics, Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On June 24, 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 is the joint most capped Nigerian player of all-time alongside Muda Lawal. Missing from his collection is the African Cup of Nations and failure to score a Nations Cup goal despite taking part in six editions from 2000 to 2010.

Daily Independent

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