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Global Connections

Kanu: 'People are always afraid of Nigeria and it's not right'

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • Nigerian born striker Nwankwo Kanu is Africa's most decorated footballer
  • He has played for Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal and is captain of Nigeria's Super Eagles
  • He believes the pre-conceived notions of his country are wrong

Global Connections takes two very different countries and asks you to find the connections. Part of CNN's Connect the World, this week we've picked two giants on their respective continents: Brazil and Nigeria. Here we ask footballer Nwankwo Kanu what Nigeria means to him.

London, England (CNN) -- With a glittering career on the pitch, Nwankwo Kanu is Nigeria's most iconic footballer.

Born in Owerri, the capital of the southern state of Imo, Nigeria; by the age of 17 Kanu was already far from home, playing for Ajax in the Netherlands.

Africa's most decorated footballer has had a career spanning almost two decades. In this time he has captained the Nigerian side to win Olympic gold in 1996, won the European Cup with Ajax, the English Premier League title and FA Cup with Arsenal and scored the winning goal for Portsmouth in the 2008 FA Cup Final.

All this despite undergoing major heart surgery in 1996 after doctors spotted a faulty heart-valve. He has since established the successful Kanu Heart Foundation as well as the The Kanu Football Foundation to help young African footballers.

Now near the end of his career, Kanu talks exclusively to CNN about what he loves most about the country he represents on and off the pitch.

CNN: What does Nigeria mean to you?

Nwankwo Kanu: Nigeria is where I come from, it's part of my life and part of being who I am. I grew up in Nigeria and I think for me it means a lot. It means everything to me. The country has been blessed by God. It's a country where the population is big and they are hard working people and religious people.

CNN: Where are your favorite places to go in Nigeria?

People are always afraid of Nigeria and I don't think that idea of Nigeria is right or true
--Nigerian footballer Nwankwo Kanu

NK: I love to go to the East, but also my town of Owerri. It's a very small town, a very quiet area, but the people they love enjoyment and it's all about life. They like to have fun and enjoy themselves to the fullest, but when it's late they go to sleep -- no violence, no negative things, it's all about positives.

CNN: What do you miss most about Nigeria?

NK: The people and the behavior of the people. You miss their way of life and the way they live, the enjoyment and their hardworking nature. I also miss the food -- the spicy food. The dish I miss the most is edikang ikong, which is like a vegetable soup -- very, very good for the system.

CNN: How has Nigeria changed in your lifetime?

NK: I think that every developing country keeps on developing. For a lot of years now, Nigeria has been growing and developing in terms of infrastructure and communications and it keeps growing. I think people are putting their heads together and trying to make things get better in the country. For me, it's getting better year by year.

CNN: What does the future hold for Nigeria?

NK: The sky is the limit. The future is bright. We have 150 million people and the way we are developing, I think the future is there for the younger generation who are coming up. The opportunities are there and the future is bright.

People are always afraid of Nigeria and I don't think that idea of Nigeria is right or true. People can go and enjoy Nigeria, it's a very good and lovely country and we have good people with very good hearts who can welcome you.