Nwankwo Kanu, OON (born 1 August 1976), popularly known as Papillo, is a retired Nigerian footballer who played as a forward. He was a member of the Nigerian national team and later captained the Eagles for 16 years from 1994 until 2010. Kanu is a native of Abia State Southeast Nigeria.
Born in Owerri, Nigeria, Kanu began his career at Nigerian league club Federation Works, before moving to Iwuanyanwu Nationale now known as Heartland FC. After a notable performance at the U-17 World Championships, he was signed by Dutch Eredivisie AFC Ajax in 1993 for €207,047. He made his Ajax debut the following year and went on to score 25 goals in 54 appearances. Kanu also came on as a sub in Ajax’s 1995 Champions League final win over AC Milan. He went on to play for Inter Milan of Italy, and English clubs Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth.
Kanu was a member of the Nigerian national team from 1994 to 2010, making his debut in friendly against Sweden. Earlier on at the start of his career, Kanu was instrumental in Nigeria’s overall success at the 1993 FIFA U-17 tournament in Japan and their subsequent 2–1 victory over Ghana in the final. With five goals, he was second joint-scorer in the tournament with Peter Anosike and Manuel Neira, behind compatriot and Captain Wilson Oruma.
He also won the Olympic gold in the football event at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he scored the winning goal in the 4-3 semi-final win over Brazil, his second goal of the match. Kanu participated in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On 24 June 2010, Kanu ended his international career following Nigeria’s exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Nigeria lost their group matches against Argentina and Greece, before a 2–2 draw with South Korea ended their stay in the tournament. He won 86 caps and scored 13 goals for his country and was the joint most capped Nigerian player of all-time alongside Muda Lawal, until Joseph Yobo surpassed both players in 2012, winning his 87th cap.
Kanu has won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals and two African Player of the Year awards amongst others. He is also one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal. He made the third-most substitute appearances in Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times. He is regarded as one of the best players in African football history
Following his battle with a heart condition and a successful surgery, Kanu set up the Kanu Heart Foundation in 2000 to help children battling with heart defects. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In October 2015, Kanu became Africa’s brand ambassador for digital TV operator StarTimes.