The story of how a 22-year-old Nigerian player beat the odds to become a Premier League hero
Ex-Super Eagles star Nwankwo Kanu travelled 800 miles from Inter Milan to join Arsenal in 1999, in a deal surrounded with so much uncertainty.
The former Ajax forward was advised to stop playing football when he was diagnosed with a heart problem barely two months after he joined Inter Milan from the Dutch champions.
And despite his big reputation when joining the Nerazzurri, he only made 20 appearances in his three years at the Giuseppe Meazza because of his health.
Nevertheless, Kanu did not give up on his career, and neither did former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, who set his sights on signing the rough diamond.
The former Olympic gold medallist underwent successful surgery, and Arsenal signed him for 4.5 million pounds on a six-year contract in January 1999.
It was a big gamble for the Gunners at the time, considering Kanu’s heart issues, and he was also suffering from a knee injury at the time. Still, Wenger kept faith in the Nigerian star.
But the North-Londoners were not entirely convinced with Kanu’s arrival. They were cautious with the ex-Super Eagles star.
Unlike the conventional protocol of unveiling players at the club stadium, Kanu was unveiled at a car park, with only Wenger the notable face present.
Nonetheless, despite the uncertainties, and the doubts, it turned out to be one of the best deals ever brokered by the Gunners.
Kanu shone like million stars. He became a significant part of the Gunners’ setup in the early 2000s. Kanu scored seven goals in twelve Premier League appearances in his first six months at Highbury(Arsenal’s old stadium).
He scored many match-winning goals for Arsenal. His finish against Derby County, which took Arsenal to the Semifinals of the FA Cup in 1999, his two goals against Wimbledon and his clincher against Watford in the 1999/2000 season.
But the memory which would always linger in the hearts of Arsenal fans and indeed Premier League followers was his fifteen minutes hat-trick which helped the Gunners overturn a two-goal deficit against Chelsea in the ’99/00 season.
Kanu went on to win two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and one Community Shield during his time with the Gunners.
During his five-and-a-half years at Arsenal, the 45-year-old was brilliance, determination, and hard work exemplified. He scored 44 goals and assisted 29 in 196 appearances for the Gunners.
The 1999 CAF player of the year left Arsenal in 2004 to join West-Brom. But his deeds at Highbury cemented his place as a cult hero for the Gunners.