Happy birthday Kanu!

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Greatest 50 Players - 13. Kanu

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.

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.

Greatest 50 Players - 13 Kanu

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.

This list of 50 Gunners Greatest Players was determined by tens of thousands of Arsenal fans from across the world. The vote took place on the club’s official website in 2008. To help prevent multiple voting by a single person, only registered members of Arsenal.com could take part.


Kanu - How my Arsenal spell opened doors

Kanu says his success at Arsenal “opened the doors” for more African footballers to play in the Premier League.

The former Nigeria striker joined the Gunners in 1999 and went on to score 44 goals in 198 appearances, helping the Gunners lift two Premier League trophies and two FA Cups during his five years at the club.

Thursday marks the 17th anniversary of Kanu signing for the club, and the 39-year-old has fond memories of his time in north London.

"With Arsenal behind me and what we did with Arsenal, everybody now tends to follow the English league"


“I believe I was the first [African] person who came to England and did very well,” he told Arsenal Player. “After that the doors opened for African talent so, with Arsenal behind me and what we did with Arsenal, everybody now tends to follow the English league.

“When I came over I saw a good coach who saw the best in me. I was a good player because he made it easier for me to play.

“Everybody believes that English football is all about playing the ball up, not keeping it on the ground, but Arsene has his own idea of football and it made it easier for us. He wanted us to play football the right way, he wanted us to enjoy it by passing the ball around and that’s what we did.

“It was very easy to adjust when you saw the fans. The supporters are behind you and they love you and what you are doing and that means you have to do more. If you keep doing more, they keep loving you and it was very easy for them to adopt me.

“I had the skills and the tricks the fans really love. When I left Arsenal I still had the fans on my mind and since then I’ve been supporting the club.”