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Kanu Nwankwo: Kanu Kicks Misery Out of Many Lives

Posted by By Modupe Ogunbayo on 2004/08/23 | Views: 2012 |

Kanu Nwankwo: Kanu Kicks Misery Out of Many Lives


Although, he is better known as a soccer star, Kanu is best idolised by all for his philanthropic gestures.

Although, he is better known as a soccer star, Kanu is best idolised by all for his philanthropic gestures.

He means different things to different people. To football lovers, he is the gifted soccer idol they just love to love. Heart condition invalids appreciate him for giving them hope for survival. He is a source of inspiration to millions of Nigerian youths. These best describe Kanu Nwankwo, Nigerian international football player.

Although, he is better known as a soccer star, Kanu is best idolised by all for his philanthropic gestures. After undergoing a successful heart surgery in 1998, Kanu sponsored two Nigerian children to England for an operation. Thereafter, on June 21, 2000, he launched the Kanu Heart Foundation, KHF, a non-governmental organisation, to achieve this aim on a continuing basis.

The foundation became the answer to a young woman's prayers. Enitan Adesola's child was suffering from a heart condition. Doctors had told the hapless woman that the solution to the problem was money, lots of it, but she lacked the financial resources to seek the cure abroad. She took her kid's case to KHF. Shortly after that, another case, that of Oluwafunmi Okude, presented itself to KHF. These occurred within a few days of KHF's existence. Their problems were solved. Kanu simply paid for their treatment. The Kanu Heart Foundation has facilitated the operation of about one hundred patients with heart condition. Patients from several parts of Africa notably, Mali, Uganda and Cameroun besiege the Foundation for help regularly. This week, eleven children would be flown to Israel and India, KHF's preferred surgery countries, for surgical operations. Each surgery costs two million naira.

His exemplary leadership quality transcends helping heart condition patients. In order to return something substantial to the sport which brought him global acclaim and wealth, Kanu has founded a football club in the Imo State amateur league called, Papilo Football Club. He is the financier of the club. As a gesture of appreciation, the Imo State government gave him a free parcel of land in the state and Kanu intends to build a stadium on the land soon. The stadium would be Papilo FC's playing ground. When he eventually floats his football academy, it would be accommodated on the same site.

For being such a gem worthy of emulation by other Nigerians, President Obasanjo honoured Kanu with a national award, Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR, in 2003. This was Kanu's second national award. He had earlier been honoured with Member of the Order of the Niger, MON, after Atlanta '96 when he, as captain, led the Nigerian soccer team to its first ever Olympic soccer gold.

Born August 1, 1976, in Owerri, Imo State, Kanu is the third of four children. His father worked with the Imo State Ministry of Works while his mother is a businesswoman. They were strict Presbyterians who inculcated in their children the best of Christian values. All his siblings, apart from the first child, a girl, are professional football players. The youngest brother, Christopher Ogbonna Kanu, cut his footballing teeth with Iwuanyanwu Comets. He has played for the Flying Eagles and Super Eagles. Ogbonna is currently with Ajax Amsterdam's junior team in Holland. Godwin, the first son, was Uche Okechukwu's defensive partner in Iwuayanwu Nationale of Owerri, Imo State in the mid 80s. Kanu's love for the game was inspired in those days by seeing his big brother appearing in Nationale's colours. His love and passion for excellence at the game, blossomed at Holy Ghost College, Owerri, in 1990. The school, popularly called 'Arugo,' was renowned for having a strong football pedigree in the state. In no time, Kanu was an integral part of the school team. At the same time, he was playing for the Ministry of Works Football Team where his father was working.

Kanu started playing football professionally with Iwuanyanwu Comets. Unlike his two brothers, Kanu later moved to Rangers International Football Club. His family was bothered at first. But he knew where he was going and how to get there. He was the highest goal scorer in the Nigerian league several times. It was no surprise that he was one of those called to the Under - 17 Golden Eaglets training camp for Japan '93. At the tournament, his dazzling form contributed to the team's victory. From that tournament, he joined Ajax Amsterdam football club in Holland.

Later on, he demonstrated true gallantry and sterling leadership qualities when he captained the Flying Eagles, called the Dream Team. Under Kanu's able leadership, the Dream Team won the gold medal. The high point of that tournament was Nigeria's defeat of Brazil from being 1-3 down to eventually win, 4-3. Kanu himself scored the winning golden goal in extra time. The team later conquered Argentina to pick the Olympics gold medal in football in Atlanta '96. Kanu became the hero of the hour, the man of the moment. Shortly after, he left Nigeria to resume his professional football career with Ajax Amsterdam Football Club in Holland. His rise continued to be meteoric. He contributed immensely to Ajax's two consecutive European champions league victories. He, however, decided to move on to tougher challenges. He left Ajax for Inter Milan Football Club in Italian Seria A.

The attempted move proved fortuitous. During a mandatory medical check-up before being signed on at Inter, doctors discovered that he had a heart condition. Kanu was advised to find another vocation because he could not play football again.

Kanu was devastated. Football was his life, and his life football. Not to play football was totally inconceivable. He demanded to know the cure. None, was the response. Stubbornly, he persisted. Consequently, he was referred to specialists in different parts of the globe. Even then, the chances of success were said to be low. Kanu remained undeterred. The operation was successful. Before long he had resumed footballing again.

Kanu is used to a tight schedule. He loves having a strictly uninterrupted sleep till about nine or ten in the morning. When he wakes up, he goes into a prayer session. A light breakfast follows. Then, he must have a private training session. This is easier because each of his houses has a mini football pitch where he trains. Otherwise he works out in his private gymnasium. At the start of a football season, Kanu dashes back to Owerri from England. Reason? He must have tough training exercises and matches with 'his boys, the Papilo football players. After signing for West Brom from Arsenal recently that was exactly what Kanu did to be match-fit.

However, money is not the pivot on which his life rotates. When he stunned football lovers recently by joining West Brom and shunning more lucrative offers from bigger clubs like Athletico Madrid, he put other considerations ahead of money. He decided to be in a club where he would get a regular shirt and improve his rating again. Besides, he wants to spend more time with his wife, Amarachi, who he wedded only a month ago. Amarachi herself is resuming studies at a university in England. She was an undergraduate of Abia State University, Nigeria. The couple met at a birthday party in their village. It was Amara's humility and intelligence that ensnared Kanu. Amara, in turn, loves Kanu for his kindness and courage.

Not many expected Kanu to play football again after the heart surgery but the six-footer beat the odds. And now he is helping others to kick misery out of their lives.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.