Kanu Nwankwo, fondly known as “Papilo,” is a Nigerian football icon whose illustrious career and philanthropic efforts have left an enduring impact both on and off the pitch. Kanu’s journey from a young talent in Nigeria to a global football legend is a testament to his skill, resilience, and commitment to making a positive difference in the world.

Kanu Nwankwo is more than just a footballer; he’s a global icon. His journey from the streets of Lagos to the top echelons of world football is a testament to his resilience and unwavering spirit. His tireless work with humanitarian causes leaves a lasting impact on countless lives.

He is a beacon of hope, a symbol of excellence, and a true legend whose name will forever be etched in the annals of football and beyond. In this article from Naijassador, we will dive into the life and achievements of a great Nigerian footballer, Kanu Nwankwo.

Early life

Kanu Nwosu Christian Nwankwo was born on August 1, 1976, in Owerri, Nigeria to his mother Susan, and his father, Mr. Iheme Kanu, who is a native of Okija in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State, Nigeria. Kanu grew up alongside his brothers; Christopher and Ogbonna Kanu. He also had stepbrothers whose names were, Anderson Gabolalmo Kanu and Henry Isaac. Kanu’s younger brother, Christopher, was also a prominent footballer and he played as a defender for his team. Kanu and his brothers were raised in a Christian home.


Kanu’s football journey took a significant turn when he joined Nigerian club Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC) in 1992. His talent quickly caught the attention of international scouts, leading to a move to Europe to play for Ajax in the Netherlands. It was at Ajax that Kanu’s star began to rise, winning domestic and continental honors, including the UEFA Champions League in 1995.

Interlude with Inter Milan

Following his success at Ajax, Kanu moved to Inter Milan in Italy. Despite facing a career-threatening heart condition, he demonstrated resilience and determination, ultimately making a triumphant return to the field after successful surgery. His time with Inter Milan further solidified his reputation as a skilled and adaptable player.

Premier League Success

Kanu’s journey in the English Premier League began with a move to Arsenal in 1999. His impact at the club was immediate, contributing to the team’s success with memorable goals and performances. He played a pivotal role in Arsenal’s historic “Invincibles” season in 2003-2004, where the team remained undefeated in the league.

National Team Achievements

As a key figure in the Nigerian national team, Kanu played in multiple FIFA World Cups and Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. He led the Super Eagles to victory in the 1996 Olympics, winning the gold medal and etching his name in Nigerian football history.

Recognition and Awards

Kanu Nwankwo’s contributions to football have earned him numerous accolades, including the African Player of the Year award twice (1996, 1999). In 2014, he was honored with the African Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to sports and philanthropy. Kanu Nwankwo, the name itself stirs up memories of majestic skills, powerful headers, and an infectious grin that charmed the world. But Kanu’s legacy goes beyond mere footballing prowess. It’s a story of triumph over adversity, a mosaic of trophies and titles, and a passion for humanitarian work that continues to touch countless lives.

  • UEFA Champions League medal (Ajax, 1995): Part of the historic Ajax team that conquered Europe, showcasing his incredible talent at a young age.
  • UEFA Cup medal (Inter Milan, 1998): Demonstrating his versatility and adaptability, thriving in Italy after a successful spell in the Netherlands.
  • Three FA Cup medals (Arsenal, 1998, 2002, 2003): Adding English silverware to his collection, becoming a fan favorite at the Emirates.
  • Premier League title (Arsenal, 2004): Reaching the pinnacle of English football, proving his resilience after overcoming a life-threatening heart condition.
  • Olympic Gold Medal (1996): Leading Nigeria to a historic victory in Atlanta, etching his name in the annals of African football history.
  • African Player of the Year awards (1996, 1999): Recognized as the continent’s finest talent, twice receiving the prestigious honor.

He played for 11 different clubs across 4 continents: Showcasing his adaptability and dedication to the beautiful game. He made the third-most substitute appearances in the Premier. Proving his invaluable role as a game-changer and motivator. He is considered one of the best players in African football history. Lauded for his skills, work ethic, and influence on the continent.

Beyond the stadium, Kanu’s heart beats for a better world:

  • UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador: Using his platform to champion the well-being of children around the world.
  • Founder of the Kanu Heart Foundation: Raising awareness and providing support for people with heart diseases, particularly in Africa.
  • African brand ambassador for digital TV operator StarTimes: Promoting access to information and entertainment across the continent.
  • Owner of Kanu Sports TV: Offering a platform for young African athletes to showcase their talents.


Kanu Nwankwo was born with a defect in his heart which is known as the congenital heart defect and it affected his aortic valve from closing. According to Naijassador, he subsequently underwent a heart operation in 1996 and made a full recovery even when it was speculated that that was the end of his football career. However, Kanu still had to undergo a yearly checkup to ensure that his heart was in perfect condition. Also in March 2014, the football star had to undergo another corrective surgery for his heart and this was carried out in the United States.

Philanthropy and Humanitarian Work

Beyond his achievements in football, Kanu is renowned for his philanthropic efforts. The Kanu Heart Foundation, established in 2000, aims to provide life-saving heart surgeries for underprivileged African children. Kanu’s personal experience with a heart condition inspired him to make a significant impact on the lives of others, showcasing his commitment to giving back to the community. This organization acts as a beacon of hope, providing medical support and educational opportunities for children with heart defects in Africa. The foundation operates across several countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, and some of the services offered by the foundation include:

Free, life-saving surgeries: Since its inception, the foundation has facilitated over 500 successful heart surgeries for children from underprivileged backgrounds. These procedures grant them a chance at a healthy, future filled with possibilities.

Cardiac care infrastructure: The foundation actively works to improve healthcare infrastructure in Africa, establishing cardiac centers and providing vital medical equipment to hospitals. This ensures better access to diagnosis and treatment for heart conditions.

Educational support: Recognizing the importance of holistic care, the foundation provides educational scholarships and vocational training programs for children with heart defects. This empowers them to thrive beyond their medical challenges and build a brighter future.

Beyond Medical Aid

Kanu’s philanthropic spirit extends beyond medical intervention. He actively uses his platform as a footballing legend to raise awareness about heart disease, advocate for better healthcare, and inspire hope in communities across Africa.

Here are some notable achievements of the Kanu Nwankwo Foundation:

Partnerships with international organizations: The foundation collaborates with renowned institutions like the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and the Mayo Clinic in the US to provide specialized medical expertise and training.

Fundraising initiatives: Through charity events, celebrity endorsements, and corporate partnerships, the foundation raises vital funds to sustain its operations and impact the lives of even more children.

Advocacy and awareness campaigns: Kanu actively participates in raising awareness about heart disease, particularly in rural African communities, where access to information and care can be limited.

Kanu Nwankwo’s story is a testament to the power of resilience, compassion, and dedication. He transcended the football field to become a champion of hearts, providing hope and a chance at life for thousands of children. His philanthropic achievements stand as a beacon of inspiration, urging us all to make a difference in the lives of others.

Brand endorsements

Beyond his glorious achievements on the pitch and his noble humanitarian work, Kanu Nwankwo has also carved a distinct path in the world of brand endorsements. Known for his infectious charm, charisma, and down-to-earth personality, Kanu has become a sought-after face for some of the biggest brands in Nigeria and beyond. Let’s explore some of the major brands Kanu has graced with his presence according to Naijassador:

One of Kanu’s earliest and most enduring partnerships, Peak Milk has leveraged its star power and wholesome image to promote its dairy products for over two decades. Their iconic advertisements showcasing Kanu’s athletic prowess and playful character cemented his association with the brand in the minds of Nigerians. The leading telecommunications giant in Nigeria recognized Kanu’s appeal and influence, signing him as an ambassador in 2015. His involvement in various campaigns promoting their services and initiatives further propelled him into the endorsement sphere.

The renowned brewery saw in Kanu a perfect embodiment of their values of strength, community, and celebration. He was featured in several engaging campaigns emphasizing these themes, connecting with Nigerians through shared experiences and cultural relevance.

This digital TV operator tapped into Kanu’s passion for football and pan-African appeal, appointing him as their African brand ambassador. He’s instrumental in promoting their services and accessibility across the continent, particularly focusing on bringing affordable entertainment to underserved communities.

Kanu’s diverse portfolio includes endorsements for brands like Amstel Malta, Indomie Noodles, Airtel Nigeria, and even the mobile game Football: Club Manager. He also launched his own sports clothing line, Kanu Nwankwo Sports, further extending his reach and entrepreneurial spirit. Unlike some celebrities, Kanu’s brand endorsements transcend mere appearance. His genuine connection with the audience, his dedication to social causes, and his commitment to using his platform for positive change all add depth and authenticity to his brand partnerships.

Personal life

Kanu Nwankwo is happily married to Amarachi Kanu. She was just 18 years old when she got married to the superstar. Kanu is ten years older than his wife but the pair had stayed together for over a decade. Amarachi, his wife, is not just a supportive partner but also an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Together, they have created a loving family.

The couple is blessed with three beautiful children which include two boys, Iyang Onyekachi Kanu and Sean Chukwudi Kanu, and a girl, Pinky Amarachi Kanu.

Kanu and Amarachi’s commitment to family values is evident in their public appearances and social media posts, showcasing a close-knit and joyous family unit. Despite the demands of Kanu’s illustrious football career and subsequent ventures, the family remains a priority for the couple.

Amarachi actively supports and participates in the foundation’s initiatives, reflecting the family’s dedication to making a positive impact beyond the football field. Amara earned herself a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurial Management from European Business School, London. She also launched her new book, titled Healthy Living with Amara Kanu on the same day on July 13, 2017.

Post-Retirement Influence

Since retiring from professional football, Kanu has remained actively involved in football-related activities. He has worked as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, contributing to initiatives that promote education and healthcare for children.

Net worth

Kanu Nwankwo has an estimated net worth of £7.49m and he is regarded as one of the most decorated Nigerian footballers in history. The former football star has a lot of investments, especially in Real Estate. He is said to have built a ₦400M hotel in Owerri and owns another 4-star hotel called The Hardley Apartments on Victoria Island in Lagos. His career over the years and business acumen have truly made the football star a force to reckon with when it comes to great achievements.

Kanu Nwankwo’s legacy extends far beyond the football field. His journey from a young Nigerian talent to a global football icon, coupled with his dedication to philanthropy, showcases the impact one individual can have on both the sporting world and the lives of those in need. Kanu’s story continues to inspire aspiring athletes and philanthropists, solidifying his place as not just a football legend but also a compassionate humanitarian.

Things you should know about Kanu Nwankwo, a Nigerian ex-footballer.

Please tell us what else readers should know in the comment section.

Written by Sarah Aboje


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