We recently signed Nigerian football legend and Azimo super-fan Kanu to be our brand ambassador and help spread the word about our brilliant money transfer across the African continent. Here we catch up with the superstar on the eve of the 2017 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea:
Did you always want to be a footballer when you were growing up?
Of course, every young boy in Nigeria wants to be a football star! My family were very encouraging – my dad is sports-mad and my brother played too.
What was your first big break in football?
My first really big break came as a teenager when I represented my country in the FIFA World Youth Tournament in Japan. We won the competition and I was second-highest goal scorer with five. On the back of that, some of the big European clubs approached me and I signed for Ajax.
Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
I was still very young when I moved to Ajax and I learned an awful lot about the game during my time there. But the biggest influence on my career was Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. He took a big risk signing me so soon after I’d had my first heart operation, and I was able to repay him with 37 goals in my 119 games for the club.
What was the biggest achievement of your football career?
Winning Olympic Gold in Atlanta in 1996. It was the first time an African country had won the Football Gold and the whole of Africa was behind us. The other one that sticks out, of course, was the match against Chelsea in 1999, when we were 2-0 down and we came back to win 3-2. I scored a hat-trick and probably my most memorable goal ever!
What advice do you have for youngsters trying to make it in football today?
Professional football is a sport where you have to give absolutely everything – you have to be strong, you have to be disciplined and you have to be focused. There are so many kids wanting to be footballers these days, so you have to give every ounce of effort to make it to the top. The best piece of advice I ever got was to never doubt my talent.
What inspired you to set up the Kanu Heart Foundation?
Soon after I returned from the Atlanta Olympics, I was found to have a heart defect and I had to have an operation in the US. But I count myself lucky – I’d already played for Ajax and won Olympic Gold, and I was able to be treated by the best doctors. But I could see people back home in Nigeria who couldn’t even afford to have a check-up and I felt it was time to give something back. The Foundation is my way of doing this.
How is Azimo helping?
Azimo has pledged to donate a percentage of every transaction made to Africa to support the Foundation’s life-saving work. With Africa being one of the top remittance corridors, it’s going to make a huge difference to us and the people we help.
Is treatment expensive to organise?
Hugely! At first patients were treated in the UK, but it was very expensive – up to £20,000 for each operation. So we moved the operations to Israel and now we’ve moved again to India. Ideally, though, we’d like to build hospitals and perform the operations back in Nigeria. We’re currently in talks with the Nigerian government and major private companies, so watch this space.
You must get thousands of requests for help. How do you choose?
It’s very difficult, of course, as we have so many requests for urgent help from across the African continent. So each case is reviewed individually – all the medical reports we receive are sent to a team of doctors, who then evaluate each one and work out which are the most urgent.
What made you start using Azimo to send money home?
I have a lot of relations in Nigeria and I often send money back home. Before Azimo launched, money transfer was a hugely stressful experience – there were so many fees to be paid and the whole process took ages. But now Azimo means you can send money same-day to Nigeria and fees are just £1. It’s also very safe, which is hugely important to me and my family back home.
Is there anything we could do better?
Not really! It’s a privilege to join the Azimo team and champion the work they’re doing to make sending money home radically cheaper and faster. Supporting family back home means a huge amount to me and all my fellow Nigerians, and with Azimo you don’t need to have wahala or stress!
Finally, you’re an inspiration to many. But who has inspired you?
I’d have to say former South African president Nelson Mandela, without a doubt. I met him in his home country and was so impressed by his attitude in the face of such adversity. Even today, his incredible achievements drive so many young people to be positive in life, to believe in something and go for it.
Launched in 2012, Azimo is the better way to transfer money around the world, touching millions of people’s lives. Our market-leading platform means you can send money to more than 190 countries across the globe in just a few clicks via our website or app. Ready to join the revolution? Head to the Azimo homepage, check out our brilliant rates and start saving today!