'Without the funds, most will die' - Arsenal legend Kanu on a mission to save more Nigerian lives

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The former Gunners striker is preparing for a busy year for the Kanu Heart Foundation, which is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary

Since its launch in 2000, the Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF) has saved the lives of more than 550 Nigerian children - but the man behind the charity knows that number could be higher.

That’s why Arsenal legend Nwankwo Kanu now spends most of his time travelling the world trying to spread the word even further so he can realise his dream of opening a specialist hospital in the centre of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

“With God’s grace we have done 561 open heart surgery operations and saved their lives,” the former Gunners star exclusively told Goal . “But we have 200 on the waiting list.

“So I’m really working hard because we want to build a hospital in Nigeria, we’re trying to put things together to try and achieve that.

“You have to go from one place to the other to raise funds for them [children who need surgery], because without the funds, most of them will die.

“So we try to make sure we can work extra hard to help those who cannot afford it by using my fame and name to get support and then we can help them out.”

The successful surgeries which have been performed on Nigerian youngsters with the help of the KHF have been carried out in hospitals around the world at a cost of around £8,100 ($10,000) per person.

Having a specialist cardiac facility within the country itself will greatly reduce that cost, however, and save the lives of even more children who are in desperate need of medical help.

So the foundation continues to work hard on raising funds and have several major events planned for 2020, which will be a landmark year.

“Next year is going to be the 20th anniversary of the foundation,” said Kanu. “We want to play a football game, have a dinner and a concert so we want to put something together to see what we can make of it.

Kanu Nwankwo

“The foundation is really in good shape and doing its best.”

Despite spending a large amount of his time trying to grow his foundation, Kanu’s attention is still never far away from his beloved Arsenal.

It may be 15 years now since he ended his five-year stay in north London, but the two-time Premier League winner remains a keen supporter of his former club.

Despite being saddened by Alex Iwobi’s exit to Everton earlier this summer, the 43-year-old believes the addition of Nicolas Pepe has given Arsenal a frontline as good as any on offer in the English top flight.

Pepe linking up with Alexandre Lacazette and last season’s golden boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has arguably given the Gunners their best strike force since the days when Kanu, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord used to run riot on a weekly basis.

But Kanu knows there is one big difference between this current Arsenal side and the successful teams that used to consistently win trophies during the glory days of Arsene Wenger.

“The strike force is exciting,” he said. “But the only thing is the defensive part also has to be good for the strikers to function well.

“If we can keep things tight, then I believe that Arsenal will do very well this season.

“David Luiz is a good player, experienced. He knows what he’s doing and he’s bringing his spirit to the team.

“He is going to do well for us. But when you talk about the defence, it’s not only about one player, it’s every one of them at the back. They need to work as a defence to not concede and to improve.

“When they defend well, of course the strikers can destroy the other team.”

Kanu added: ”It’s totally different [to his era] because we were like warriors, we fought and had this spirit. It was different to what Arsenal have now.

“We have very good players, there’s no doubt about it, and they can score goals. But the team in general is not the same as when we played.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 2019-20

“For the defence and the midfield, every department has to be at 150 per cent and there has to be a lot of leaders. Not just one or two, everybody has to be able to lead the team.

“Everyone knows we have a good strike force but there is something missing at the back. The quicker they find it, the better it will be for the team.”

Despite his reservations about the defence, Kanu still believes Arsenal have enough to go better than last season and secure a top-four finish this time around.

But the Nigeria legend, who scored 43 times for the club in 195 appearances for the Gunners, believes Champions League qualification should be the bare minimum.

“Top four? Yes they will,” he said. “But for a team of Arsenal’s calibre, the question is not should they? They have to start winning those trophies to make sure the fans are happy because at the end of the day that’s what counts.

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“They have a good strike force but as I said, every department of the team has to be good. If they do that, then I think we will pick up.”

Kanu added: “Unai Emery’s not a bad coach. His record speaks for him. If he was not a good coach, I don’t think Arsenal will have brought him on board.

“But the league here is totally different and very strong. But with time, he is going to show what he is made of. Last year he didn’t do bad. This year I believe he will do better. Let’s hope it works out like that.”

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