Nigeria has produced many outstanding footballers over the years, but who is the most successful player to have come out of the country?
It’s a topic that has generated so much debate, but one name that keeps being consistently mentioned is that of Kanu Nwankwo.
Looking at Kanu’s impressive collection of silverware, it is easy to see why many would consider him the most successful Nigerian footballer ever.
The gangling forward had a glittering career, adorned with so many beautiful trophies and honours.
While in Nigeria at the infancy of his career, he won the Nigerian league title with Iwuanyanwu Nationale, but it was with Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam that he truly went berserk with the trophy collection.
Kanu was a key member of the brilliant Ajax team of the 1990s, claiming successive league titles between 1994 and 1996, and winning the UEFA Champions League crown in 1995. That team, which included Kanu’s compatriot, Finidi George also won the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.
Despite being diagnosed with a career-threatening heart condition during his time at Inter Milan, Kanu continued to stack his trophy cabinet, claiming a UEFA Cup winner’s medal with the Nerazzurri in 1998.
He was to return to the very top of his game at Arsenal.
At a time when there were still doubts about his health, then Arsenal boss, Arsenal Wenger took a chance on the Nigerian forward, signing him from Inter, and boy did Kanu repay the faith Wenger showed in him.
He claimed two Premier League titles and two FA Cup crowns, thrilling the Arsenal faithful with his incredible vision and poise on the board.
While he was generally expected to win trophies at a formidable Arsenal side, he wasn’t expected to get anywhere near a trophy at Portsmouth.
However, Kanu showed that he could also inspire a lesser team to Cup glory, leading lowly Portsmouth to the FA Cup title in 2008. Having dumped out Manchester United en route to the final, Portsmouth took out Cardiff in the title match, with Kanu producing a man-of-the-match performance. He also got the winning goal in that final.
Imagine placing a bet on Portsmouth to win the FA Cup at the start of that season!
Unfortunately, unlike now when there are so many sports betting sites in Nigeria, bookmakers were not as popular in the country back in 2008 when Kanu led Pompey to Cup glory!
On a personal level, Kanu was named African footballer of the year in 1996 and 1999.
The biggest criticism often levied against Kanu is his inability to guide Nigeria to senior international honours.
Kanu enjoyed a magnificent spell at youth international level, famously winning an Olympic Gold medal with the Under 23 team in Atlanta, to add to the gold he got with the Under 17 team in Japan 1993.
However, he never won the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria. The closest he came was that agonising defeat to Cameroon in the 2000 final at the National Stadium in Lagos.
So, is this failure to win the Africa Cup of Nations enough to deny Kanu the tag of Nigeria’s most successful footballer?
Which other player would then bag the honours if Kanu is deemed unfit for the accolade?
Another name that often springs up in arguments is John Mikel Obi.
Now Mikel captained Nigeria to Nations Cup glory in 2013, to go along with his two Premier League titles, three FA Cup, the Champions League and Europa League. There is also an argument for Finidi George, who was part of the successful 1990s Ajax team and also has an AFCON winners medal.
Romantics would include JayJay Okocha in the mix, but while JayJay is arguably the most skilful footballer Nigeria has ever produced, he does not have the trophy haul to usurp Kanu.
Okocha has a Nations Cup title with Nigeria, and was also a member of the gold-medal winning team at the 1996 Olympics.
In the end, topics like this are subjective and sometimes sentimental. But it is hard to form a concrete argument against Kanu being rated as the most successful Nigerian footballer.