Kanu The Lion Heart
For Nwankwo Kanu, it was when in 1996, just weeks after he led Nigeria to an historic Olympic soccer Gold that doctors told him he has a heart condition and he will not play football again.
“I remember when they told me ‘you are not going to play football again’ and all hope was lost, but I prayed and I came back to start winning trophies again. So, whatever comes to me, is just a bonus,” recalled the former Nigeria World Cup star.
Kanu defied this terrifying diagnosis to go to win trophies with Arsenal and Portsmouth.
Soon a movie ‘The Lionheart’ showcasing this amazing true life story will premiere in Nigeria and Europe.
On Saturday in Lagos, Kanu, supported by some of African football’s icons like George Weah, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien, will formally call time on his international career as well as kick start a drive to raise five billion naira (about $35 million) to build a cardiac specialist centre in Abuja.
The 34-year-old Portsmouth striker, founded his foundation on June 20, 2000, to assist those suffering from heart ailments.
“The most important gold I’m winning now is to save the lives of those who have heart problems. If I’m able to do that, I have won the African Nations Cup and the World Cup put together,” said Kanu.
According to former sports journalist Onyebuchi Abia, who heads the Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF), the non-governmental organisation has spent an average of 7,000 US dollars on the 250 children it has facilitated their treatment in Israel, India and London.
It also brought in cardiac surgery equipment worth over $240,000 to treat children in Nigeria. These equipment are housed at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) Enugu.
“The vision of the founder is to give the African child who is suffering from any heart ailment a new lease of life and hope,” offered Abia.
There could not be a more worthy person than ‘Papilo’ to lend a helping hand to his fellow countrymen.
In October, Kanu was picked by the Nigerian government alongside prominent statesmen and politicians like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo among the top 50 Nigerians as part of the country’s 50th independence anniversary.
He remains the most decorated Nigerian player in Europe after winning major honours in the Netherlands with Ajax Amsterdam as well as in England with Arsenal and Portsmouth.
The recently appointed Ambassador of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) featured at three World Cups, 1998, 2002 and 2010. He led Nigeria to an historic Olympic soccer gold in 1996. He has also been voted CAF Footballer of the Year twice and he is an Ambassador of the UNICEF.
For someone whose promising career looked like it would suffer a premature end after it was discovered at Italian club Inter Milan that he suffered from a serious heart defect, he has done very well for himself.
Besides his foundation, Kanu has proved to be a very shrewd investor in the Nigerian economy.
The Kanu business empire is reportedly worth over three billion naira and growing.
The bean-pole striker has invested in various sectors – in a local airline, a major shareholder in a bank that has now merged with several others, part-owns a guest house in London as well as a 70-room Hardley Suites Hotel in Lagos and a table water company.
He also has huge holdings in several leading Nigerian banks and property both in Nigeria and England.
In his hometown of Owerri, he is competing with top politicians in acquiring properties in the state capital. In Owerri alone he is believed to have over 40 houses and over a dozen scattered across Onitsha, Umuahia and Aba. They are all being rented.
His London home is “a little paradise on earth”. Located in a highbrow estate in North London, the majestic white house comes with an indoor swimming pool; a spectacular sitting room and a long drive way.
In the garage are a Mercedes-Benz Jeep and a Ferrari. He bought the house for about 2.5 million pounds a year after he joined the London Gunners and today that same property is valued at over four million pounds.
Without a doubt, Kanu has defied all the odds to become the lion king in the heart of millions of Nigerians.