Former Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu has said his success with the gunners opened the doors for more African footballers to play and thrive in the English Premier League.
The former Nigerian skipper joined Arsenal 17 years ago — Feb. 17, 1999 — at a time when the African influence on English football was nearly non-existent.
The 39-year-old went on to score 44 goals in 198 games helping the Gunners to win two league titles and two FA Cups.
He told Arsenal.com that his five-year stint in North London also helped raise the profile of the Premier League in Africa.
“I believe I was the first [African] person who came to England and who did very well,” Kanu said.
He continued: “After that, the doors opened for African talents so, with Arsenal behind me and what we did with Arsenal, everybody now tends to follow the English league.
“When I came over I saw a good coach who saw the best in me. I was a good player because he made it easier for me to play.
“Everybody believes that English football is all about playing the ball up, not keeping it on the ground, but Arsène has his own idea of football and it made it easier for us. He wanted us to play football the right way, he wanted us to enjoy it by passing the ball around and that’s what we did.
“It was very easy to adjust when you saw the fans. The supporters are behind you and they love you and what you are doing and that means you have to do more. If you keep doing more, they keep loving you and it was very easy for them to adopt me.
“I had the skills and the tricks the fans really love. When I left Arsenal I still had the fans on my mind and since then I’ve been supporting the club.”
The Nigerian was fondly remembered for his late hat trick against Chelsea when Arsenal came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in 1999, scoring the third deep into injury time from an almost impossible angle.
And the forward himself confessed that even he was stunned after netting the winner.
“Everybody believed it was over, even me,” Kanu said. “I was like, OK 2-2 is enough for us because we were two down. That’s enough, then we can go eat. We share the points.
“It was difficult because where I got the ball, it was really tight from that angle, and I saw some of our players coming, waiting for me to give them the ball. But in my mind, I know that we don’t really have enough time, so I have to do to what I have to do from that angle. Which means you have to pick your target and then shoot, and that’s what I did.”
Kanu also played for West Brom and Portsmouth, both in England before hanging his boots.