I read with utmost disgust an article this weekend on the prominent football magazine goal.com. You see this is a website I trust for football news. The article was titled “Did Kanu underachieve at the international level?”
I had to do a double-take when I saw this as the first thing that came to my mind was that this was surely written by a non-Nigerian. However, I was shocked to see that it was written by my countryman or woman.
The writer of the said article lays the claim that while Kanu Nwankwo was successful at the club level winning trophies with both Ajax and Arsenal FC, he was not as prolific when representing his country of birth, Nigeria.
While this is an interesting take on the career of the prodigious football talent. I found myself wanting more. My major gripe with the premise of the article is the basis of the comparison being made.
It is safe to say that Kanu was in the generation of Nigerian football players that would include Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Finidi George amongst other legends and there have been unending debates as to who amongst these was the best player. Would it be right to thus conclude that these legends were also unsuccessful?
Based on the author’s discussion, the answer to that question would be a resounding yes! I would take the next step to say how do you define international success. Is it based on the number of caps- the author makes the case that Kanu played 88 games for Nigeria? Is it the number of goals,?
The author states that he scored 13 goals averaging to 0.15 goals per game for Nigeria when he had a higher ratio of 0.24 goals for his club career. I would beg to differ because while Kanu Nwankwo did have a tall stature he was probably more cherished for his creativity.
Why don’t we compare his goal stats with those of Jay-Jay Okocha? Jay-Jay, per Wikipedia, played 73 games for Nigeria and scored 14 goals. How is that any different from Kanu’s international career?
Your production is only as good as your team. Yes, Nigeria had a few gifted and truly world-class players in that generation of football players but certainly not the entire team was elite. Lionel Messi has won almost everything there is to win with FC Barcelona but has disappointed with Argentina. And as good as Messi is, he has not proven to be a single-handed deliverer of the Albicelestes, something that his mentor, Diego Maradona, did in the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, 1986.
Kanu Nwankwo thrived in his club career because he was surrounded by world-class players in Ajax and Arsenal. He certainly did not have such elite companionship with the Nigerian national team.
Au contraire, I would make the case that Kanu Nwankwo is arguable one of the most successful Nigerian internationals ever with his winner’s medals at the FIFA-U17 World Cup and at the 1996 Olympics in the USA.
He also was a runner up at the African Cup of Nations tournament in 2000. These stats are also arguable comparable with those of Austin Jay-Jay Okocha and Daniel Amokachi and possibly better than the international success of George Finidi.
So if the heading of the goal.com article was “Nigeria is an underachieving football country,” I would understand, but to single Kanu Nwankwo, out of that generation of players that represented Nigeria, in my opinion, is a bit unfair.
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