Olympic Gold medal winner Kanu arrived at Arsenal in 1999 already boasting an impressive haul of accolades and trophies. By the time he left North London five years later, he had added two Premier League titles and two FA Cup medals.
But it wasn’t always plain-sailing for the Nigerian striker.
|Arsenal Career||1999 - 2004|
|Appearances||198 (104 starts, 94 as a sub)|
In 1996, after leading his nation to Olympic glory in Atlanta, Kanu underwent a medical examination at Inter Milan — he had moved to the Italian giants from Dutch outfit Ajax Amsterdam with whom he won the Champions League — and the result was harrowing. It was revealed that the marksman was suffering a serious heart defect, and in November of that year Kanu had surgery to replace an aortic valve.
Far from let the adversity get him down, Kanu used his experience, and already escalating fame in Africa, to set up the Kanu Heart Foundation, an organisation that helps predominantly young people on the continent.
His philanthropic work is just an example of his human touch. Kanu’s touch was equally good on the football pitch.
He joined the Gunners in the wake of Nicolas Anelka’s departure to Real Madrid and, at first, failed to woo the crowd with his languid demeanour around the pitch. Soon, though, Kanu’s attributes became apparent and the cheeky smile he carried with him throughout won over the Highbury faithful.
Kanu could operate both as a target man or as a deep-sitting conductor of play. He had the ability to bamboozle defenders in the blink of an eye, using superb close control to wriggle out of tight spots. He was often the scorer of great goals, too.
His delicious flick-of-the heel goal in a 6-1 rout against Middlesbrough springs straight to mind, as does the time in a North London derby when he scooped the ball over a despairing Luke Young before emphatically burying the ball beyond Ian Walker.
However the moment Kanu will best be remembered for was the mesmeric finale to a 17-minute hat-trick at Stamford Bridge in 1999. Having already notched twice to haul Arsenal level with Chelsea, the Nigerian sealed victory with one of the finest goals in the history of the Premier League. He won possession by the left by-line and found himself faced with, first, an out of position goalkeeper, then two defenders and a narrowing angle. Ed de Goey was slithered past with a subtle shimmy before Kanu unleashed a curling effort which arrowed into the far top corner.
The points were Arsenal’s and a place in the Club’s history was Kanu’s.