Arsenal’s African Players Number 3 – The great Nwankwo Kanu

No African player has won more for Arsenal then this next player. In fact, few can compete with his medal collection in general.

Kanu – Played 197 games, Scored 44 goals
He was part of the famous young Ajax side to win the European Cup in 1995, and a year later, after moving to Inter Milan, announced himself to the world with two late goals for Nigeria to beat Brazil at the Olympics. Soon after, his career (nearly life) was halted when he required heart surgery but somehow recovered enough to come back and play at the top. This has led him to this current day doing charitable work, including the ‘Kanu Heart Foundation’

Arsenal Wenger had the trust of his bosses, perhaps where other managers didn’t, to convince his directors that the striker could still deliver at the highest level and he left Inter for Arsenal in Feb 1999. The Frenchmen had signed the likes of Petit and Overmars for modest fees due to recovering from lengthy injuries and again would be rewarded for his faith.

The Nigerian would never be a great goal scorer but certainly a scorer of great goals.

His very first game for the Gunners was marred by him pouncing on a restart throw that should have gone to Sheffield and which led to Arsenal scoring an unsportsmanlike winning goal, but stunners at Middlesbrough, Spurs and an amazing hat-trick at Stamford Bridge will live long in the memory.

He maximised his career by winning the FA Cup with Portsmouth after leaving Arsenal. Harry Redknapp would joke how he could barely run in training, then proceed to be magical come match day. His departure was sad though as like many of his teammates he was forced out of the club with millions owed to him.

Nwanko Kanu the person has been celebrated as much as the player for all his work in helping others, proudly a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. I his illustrious football career Kanu won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals and two African Player of the Year awards and an Olympic Gold Medal.

On and off the field, a credit to Africa and Arsenal.

Dan Smith


  1. No arguments from me on this one Dan-an unbelievably talented footballer who vied for a starting place with Wiltord behind Bergkamp and Henry.And let’s not forget his hatrick at Stamford Bridge.Three goals in 10 minutes from 2-0 down with the third goal from an impossible angle with a defender on the line.
    Oh what I would give to have a Nigerian player in the Arsenal squad with a tenth of his ability.

      1. One of my favorite players that didn’t get the attention he deserved due to the other great players in the side at the time.If he played in today’s team he would be the fans cult hero and would be a class above everybody else in the team.

  2. A phenomenal player he is.He has very good control of the ball as a player, his opponent hardly dispossessed him.

    He was Nicknamed Papilo.

  3. That hat trick was bloody brilliant!!
    I agree with everything you’ve said, Dan.. he is a credit! And his foundation has helped a lot of children… maybe one day we’ll have another like him…..

  4. Loved watching him play with his big size 14 boots. The opposition never knew what he was going to do and I think at times neither did he which made him even better to watch at times. The hatrick at Chelsea is one of my all time favourite games to rewatch.

  5. Easily the most skilled footballer of that height. Didn’t score as many goals as he could have due to his selfless personality and made a lot of assists for his team-mates. The great Kanu was responsible for most of the African football fans becoming Arsenal fans.
    His achievements in captaining a young Nigerian side to Olympic glory beating a star studded Brazilian team with the likes of Dida, Bebeto, Ronaldo da lima, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Juninho in the semi final. They went on to defeat a star studded Argentine team featuring players such as Claudio Lopez, Javier Zanetti, Ariel Ortega, Roberto Ayala, Diego Simeone, Mattias Almeyda and Hernan Crespo in the final.
    Kanu has the class and the guts our new generation of players lacked. Emmanuel Adebayor, who had a similar height to Kanu his acclaimed role model but lacked his poise and class.
    Kanu is one of Africa’s best exports.

    1. Exactly the word “SELFLESS” his selfless character distinguished him and made him highly valuable to his team mates and all the clubs he played for. I recall someone saying that Kanu while commanding first team shirt at 17yrs in NPL boasted and threw a challenge to his opponents that his club then -IWUANYANWU NATIONALE will win that year’s league despite their currentent position, they replied him no way, but at the end of the season his club won the league. He represented Nigeria that same year in the under 17 tournament, was in the race for the Golden Boot up to semi final stage but sacrificed it to the then team captain Wilson Oruma in order to see that Nigeria wins the trophy and they did and I guess he went home with the MVP. Ajax snapped him immediately and put him in the youth team where he was expected to stay a year plus but Kanu made the Ajax star studded first team in less than a year and won every trophy with Ajax including being a member of Ajax invincibles with the likes of Finidi George, Patrick Kluyvert, Jari Lithmanen, Edgar Davies, Van dersa to name but a few. When he captained a talented, vibrant and skillful daring youths to the Atlanta Olympics he made the Brazilian team with the likes of Dida, Bebeto and co. to cry bitterly in that epic semi final where they came back from three goals down to clinch the ticket for the final with his goals that gave the deadliest blows to the Brazilians, it was a painful loss that was difficult to forget to them. He joined Inter and won European Cup, joined Arsenal and won the league and FA cups. Yes I can say Papilo was extremely gifted and skillful, as an opponent he had already beaten you before you gets to him, his quality service deliveries to Thierry Henry, Pires etc were magical, the link ups with Viera, Petit,Denis Bergkam & co were phenomenal and they have been saying it. KANU and the players named above were the reason I became Arsenal fan not, he again was amongst the Arsenal’s invincibles. “King Kanu” by Portsmouth was an immense blessings when he joined them and did not leave them without a trophy. And above all these, KANU NWANKWO is very humble and caring. I am giving him a standing ovation.

  6. Lovely footballer…. Always enjoyed him with the ball at his feet… A great and endearing personality too…

    Absolutely love the guy

  7. Simply a legend, for our club and in the way he handled himself away from the game.
    Nobody would have thought that he had major problems – his third goal against chelsea still seems an impossible act.
    Brilliant to see him and Lauren at the Emirates last season.

  8. Not many had better control of the ball better than Papillo. He always looked staggering, like he would fall or lose the ball in no time, then he did something beautiful with it.

    His lack of pace is well covered by his close control, skill and intelligence. Always a delight to watch. He would have stand out more in Arsenal, but for the unbelievable talented squad we had then.

    I am imagining him in the current squad,I don’t think anyone come close in terms of skill, talent and Intelligence on the ball

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