It was quite fitting, that during the post match celebrations marking Portsmouth’s victory in the English FA Cup Final on Saturday, Nwankwo Kanu, was seen sporting a baseball cap adorned with the inscription ‘KING’ on it. Indeed, he is deserving of a crown, in a sport in which he has excelled repeatedly over many years. For such has been his long and successful ‘royal’ reign over the beautiful game, that it is beyond argumentation to say that he is Nigeria’s most successful football export ever.
And in a game, where success is measured by trophies won; Kanu has won every meaningful trophy available; the World Cup alone eluding him. To this day, Nigerians, almost to a man (and woman) remember with pride, the gold medal winning accomplishment of the 1996 Nigeria Olympic football team. It was a team in which Kanu played an important part; and one which he had the honour and distinction of captaining. It was our finest footballing moment on an international platform; and one that remains unsurpassed 12 years hence.
Since that 1996 triumph, Kanu’s footballing compass has led him in the direction of Italy and England. And it has been in England, that he has cemented his reputation as one of the finest craftsmen ever to grace the beautiful game.
Such is the ease and brilliance he brings to the game; that it is easy for unsophisticated observers to mistake his languid style for sheer laziness. Kanu is a king of the game; and kings never make undue haste. Rather they stride majestically and purposefully, taking their time to effect their desires. He moves at his own pace, performing his sublime trickery, on and off the ball, to the delight of connoisseurs of the game.
One moment, in particular, during Saturday’s FA Cup Final caught my eye. It was that instant, in which Kanu was overcome by genius and almost without pre-thought, he effortlessly executed a series of deft foot and upper body movements, moving the ball in a fluid motion, eluding the attentions of Cardiff’s defenders and goalkeeper. Unfortunately, that brilliant move did not end up in a goal being scored; as the ball misunderstood Kanu’s intentions; hitting the post, rather than the back of the net.
Yes, blame for that near miss must be ascribed to the ball, rather than the man. For one has seen Kanu perform that feat with similar ease and trickery, and with greater success against more resolute teams like Chelsea and Manchester United. I am convinced the ball was not on his wave length at the time he dispatched it. But in any event, it was to be his good fortune to score the winning goal of the day.
At the intermission during the game on Saturday, Portsmouth’s Jermain Defoe was asked by the BBC for his views on his team’s first half performance. In particular, he was asked about Kanu’s near miss; in his opinion Kanu had made a mess of the opportunity. I almost fell out of my chair in derision and laughter. For one, it was an opportunity entirely of Kanu’s own making, and secondly, it is doubtful whether Jermain Defoe could himself have conjured up such brilliance in similar circumstances.
What makes what Kanu does even more special, is the fact that no one seems to know for certain, how old he really is; officially, he is 32. But his age is a subject of much speculation and mirth. On one occasion last season, after Kanu had bewildered an opposing team with his brilliance; his team’s Manager, Harry Redknapp, declared that he had the oldest strike-force in the English Premiership. Andy Cole (a Portsmouth player at the time) he said was 35, and Kanu was at least 47. It was a hilarious moment.
An Igbo lady friend of mine swears on her Mother’s cooking pot that Kanu is not as old as people think; claiming to have known him as a youngster growing up. She insists that he is not old; but just plain ugly. I disagree. No man is ugly, and certainly not Kanu. And not even Taribo West for that matter. Men are either rich or poor, but never handsome or ugly; this is a privately held hypothesis of mine. And a hypothesis which the great Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu validated by marrying Bianca Onoh. So there you have it, no man is ugly!
To me, it matters not, whether he is in his early thirties, forties, or even fifties. And neither does it matter that his mobility on the pitch of play is greatly reduced, or the fact that his pace is now almost pedestrian. What he lacks in mobility and pace, he amply compensates for in clever brain work. His game now reflects an economy of movement; good ball distribution; nimble footwork; and a positional awareness; which guarantee his effectiveness on the pitch. And nothing matters more than this.
At a time when most of the news headlines coming out of Nigeria are negative; it is heart warming to find one of our own creating positive headlines across the world. And for this, one is grateful.
A recent BBC Survey ranked Kanu as the joint second tallest player in the English Premiership; at 6 feet 5 inches. In another life, perhaps, he may have been a basketballer. Even his boot size at 15 is enormous. But his gangling limbs and large feet, which stand him head and shoulders above most people, cannot be compared to his ‘big’ heart.
It is this ‘big’ heart that inspired him to establish the ‘Kanu Heart Foundation’; through which some Nigerian children with heart conditions have received corrective surgery. He recently announced plans to establish a ‘Kanu Football Foundation’ for the benefit of young children in Africa. In these charitable pursuits, he deserves our collective support and praise. I hope that other Nigerians in the public eye will emulate his fine example. He is a tremendous role model.
On Saturday, not for the first time, Nwankwo Kanu made us all proud to be Nigerians. And I hope that the Nigerian government is taking note of his activities as an excellent unofficial ambassador of our nation – on and off – the field of play. And I hope it rewards him accordingly.
Congratulations to you Kanu on yet another marvellous triumph.
King Kanu, we hail you; and long may you reign on the pitch of play.