For a man gifted with soccer skills, you would think that Kanu Nwankwo, the lanky Portsmouth striker will be eating and breathing soccer 24/7 but no. As the most highly-decorated African footballer, with over 10 awards including a UEFA Champions League medal, Olympic gold medal, African Nations Cup winners medal, a UEFA Cup medal and two African Player of the Year awards, perhaps one could forgive the man his fans call Papilo if he wishes to discuss other subjects but football sometimes.
His preoccupation these days is with his pet project The Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF), a project he says he plans to take to the next level. We met up on Easter Monday and the day that Portsmouth received a thumping (4-2) from lowly placed and relegation-bound Watford and try as much as I did to bring the subject of our conversations to football, the Super Eagles and his captaincy, his thoughts on the Berti Vogts era as well his future plans, Kanu will not bulge insisting that our conversations remained light-headed and off football.
Nworah & Nwankwo
I obliged knowing that perhaps the Watford defeat was still weighing heavily on his mind, but as soon as I mentioned the Kanu Heart Foundation, his eyes lit up like a kid in a toy shop. “That is really the number one thing occupying my mind right now’, he says. That surely is understandable considering the sad experiences that almost ended his football career leading to his undergoing heart surgery in November 1996 to replace an aortic valve.
“I believe in giving back to society, I quite recognise that I have been blessed not only in my football career, but also with the gift of a second chance in life”.
And how has the project been faring, in terms of success I asked him. “We have done well so far, although we could do better. I think that about 400 heart patients have been treated through the foundation with about 2,000 still on the waiting list. Funding and resources remain major challenges”.
So what is the way forward, how can the KHF outlive Kanu Nwankwo I asked next? “We are currently looking at other ways to raise funds for the foundation and would therefore welcome constructive ideas from well meaning Nigerians”. “I know that we have got some talented Nigerian heart surgeons all over the world, we are also exploring a situation where such surgeons can offer their services to the foundation during particular months for the operations in Nigeria”.
Kanu hoped that such Nigerians wishing to volunteer with the KHF would get in touch with the foundation to be included in their database. “Nigerians are very nice people, although we can do better in the area of giving back”.
As the evening wore on, Kanu kept looking at his watch and picking the cue, I knew that it was time for him to start making the one and half hours journey back to Portsmouth and to his young family.I tried one last time, “So do you think that Berti Vogts is the right man for the Super Eagles job?” He chuckled as he hauled his 6 foot 5 inches frame up, and uttered casually, “You won’t give up, will you?”
I wished him a safe journey back and wished also that his era as captain of the Super Eagles alongside the dawn of the Berti Vogts era will finally bring Nigerians good fortunes, at least in the area of soccer.