Nwankwo Kanu: the talent unfortunately surrounded by bigger talent

Ethan Tait

Most of the career of Nwankwo Kanu was lived in the shadows of the players that played around him. The lanky Nigerian forward built a career on being unpredictable and scoring important goals. He wouldn’t be the first name on the team sheet, but could be the player who won you the match on any given day. 

Despite his skill on the ball, Kanu never became a true first-team starter, due to the level of footballers around him – minus the spells at West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth where he was the only recognisable name on the team sheet!

While at Ajax, he had to split time with the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, and Frank Rijkaard. He did make an impact and won multiple trophies in the process, but was never a star.

His potential was noticed by Inter Milan, but nothing came of it as he was a bit role player at best. His lack of appearances led to another transfer to Arsenal where the bargain hunter, Arsene Wenger, saw an opportunity and talent in the Nigerian forward.

Kanu started off well in an Arsenal jersey, but like his stint at Ajax he was to be overshadowed by another player with more talent. Granted, there’s no harm in being replaced by Thierry Henry, but the trouble of playing at a bigger club stifled the ability of Kanu to get on the pitch. Once again, he was pushed out by a legend.

Fortunately, Kanu was able to get more of a consistent impact with his national side and propel Nigeria into relativity with the help and trickery of Jay-Jay Okocha. The success of Nigeria today is largely in part to these Premier League players who carried the Olympic team to a gold medal in the 1996 games and less successful trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002.

The crazy part about the career of Kanu is the fact that it almost ended prematurely due to a heart defect in 1996. Although his impact was small at times, the world of football without Kanu is unimaginable.

The biggest question of Kanu is if he were at a smaller club would he be remembered as a player who had a great impact? He was fortunate enough to play with some of the better players in European football, but he also had the ability for the spectacular.

It is possible that the Nigerian forward would not have been as effective if he were in a position with more minutes and a greater amount of responsibility. Maybe Kanu thrived on making an impact in an instant because he wasn’t the world-class player like those around him.

Regardless, Kanu will always be remembered in the footballing world as the unpredictable super sub that helped transform the way the world looked at Nigerian football forever. His trickery, lanky frame, and his fifteen-minute hat-trick against Chelsea will live on and add to the legend that is the forgotten star, Nwankwo Kanu.


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