KANU Nwankwo is no doubt one of Nigeria’s greatest player and one of Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’. Kanu won lots of silverwares in his glittering career for both club and country respectively.
Today, Kanu has moved on to chase even bigger glories as his heart charity means more to him than any trophy. Saving lives is worth more than anything he says.
Papilo as he is fondly called who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Wednesday, has undergone two open-heart surgeries in his life.
His experience made him set The Kanu Heart Foundation in 2000 to help under-privileged children across Africa with heart problems. To date, Kanu Heart Foundation has carried out 542 operations and over 200 children are still on the waiting list.
The former Arsenal superstar was quoted on a live interview on SkySports yesterday says: “For me, one life being saved means more than winning trophies.
“Trophies are good, you work hard for them, but you have them, hold them and then they are gone. But life, when it stops, that is the end.”
Kanu had his first surgery in 1996 having after joining Inter Milan when doctors told him he would never play again.
It came to him as a rude shock as he felt at the peak of his powers both physically and technically, having helped Nigeria to a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics.
He recalled: “I was on top of the world. I had played the 90 minutes of every game at the Olympics and nothing was stopping me.
“I didn’t have any symptom or sign. No tiredness or coughing. When I signed for Inter Milan, I played two friendly games and then the third one, they said I couldn’t play. I had to wait.
“After some medical check-ups, I found out I had an issue with my heart. I went to a lot of doctors that summer but everyone said the same. Not only that, but that I couldn’t play football anymore.”
Fortunately, Kanu had the operation quickly and after a year out he recovered to full fitness as well as his form which led to his 1999 switch to Arsenal, where he won two Premier League titles.
Kanu concurred that boss Arsene Wenger took a big risk on him given his history.
The ex-West Brom striker explained: “It was a big gamble for the coach and the club.
“Without me playing a lot, you have to be somebody special who knows football to know that this guy has still got it and he can deliver.
“Not everyone can count on you and believes in you but Arsene and Arsenal did.” He said.
Kanu enjoyed the rest of his career without problems but in 2014, two years after retiring, he was forced to go under the knife again after his wife Amara noticed his heart beating unusually fast one night.
Like a lion, he recovered but the experiences have made him more passionate than ever to raise awareness over the issue.
He wants more to be done in the game to help prevent tragedies such as what happened to Marc-Vivien Foe and Cheick Tiote, who died on the pitch at 28 and 30 respectively from heart problems.
Kanu explained: “What happened to them shows that even if you are standing, even if you are running, even if you don’t feel anything, that doesn’t mean you are OK.
“We’ve seen some players dying from playing football and the questions are why can’t the medical team stop it from happening.
“We have very good medical teams today compared to then so we have to spot it and help the player who has that kind of problem.
“It’s good to get proper check-ups of the players, even if it’s quarterly or ever three months.
“You might have an ankle injury, a knee injury, which can keep you out for six months but you will be back playing again. If the heart goes down, that is the end.”
on September 30, Kanu will be hosting a charity match at Barnet’s The Hive to raise money for his charity.
The former Ajax star added: “If I can do one operation in a year, it means we’ve given back to society.”
Kanu in a quick chat with Abiodun Ilori of Abbey Live Network on Wednesday said all he want is awareness and for everyone to buy the match tickets and be at the stadium to support his charity.
The charity match will hold at The Hive Stadium in Barnet on Sunday September 30th, this game will feature stars like Sol Campbell, Robert Pires and other top super stars which will include Kanu himself.
To buy tickets click here.