By Jerry Okugbe
The 2020/21 season will go down as a memorable one for Nigerian football fans, not least for the exploits of Nigerian football players for their various clubs across different leagues in Europe.
Terem Moffi enjoyed a breakout year in the French Ligue 1 with FC Lorient. Paul Onuachu was a nightmare for defenders in Belgium, scoring goals for fun and leading Genk to the Belgium Cup glory. Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho both shone as Leicester City won their first ever FA Cup trophy. And not the least, Samuel Chukwueze was brilliant in Villarreal’s Europa League winning campaign.
For Wisdom Kanu plying his trade with the modest FK Slavoj Trebisov in the Slovak second tier where the spotlight is less, his remarkable season proffered him into the public’s attention in Slovakia and has brought him to the consciousness of Nigerian football fans back home.
Kanu scored a stunning 18 goals and laid on four assists while pulling the strings from midfield for Slavoj. Along with being the highest goalscorer of the league, he was included in the Team of the Season and was also handed Discovery of the Year prize, a prestigious annual award in Slovakia.
The diminutive midfielder nicknamed Deco during his grassroots years in Nigeria, saw his stock rise on the back of his breakout year and he has now signed for MFK Zemplin Michalovce in the Slovakian top tier league.
Kanu’s footballing odyssey has taken him from Ikorodu in the south-western state of Lagos, Nigeria, to respectable heights in European football through obscure routes. This latest step in his career promises to be fascinating as his journey so far has been.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN FOR WISDOM KANU
Prior to his move to Europe, Wisdom Kanu had turned out for a number of amateur clubs in Nigeria with the last being Lagos Islanders.
He recalls his formative years in Nigeria and how he went against his parents wishes to pursue a career in the sport he loves.
“As a young and talented player in Nigeria you need to fight hard and of course I faced a lot of challenges in the beginning.
“My parents never wanted me to play football (they emphasized on education) but I was so blessed with someone I can never forget. My brother. He always helped me with everything I needed, my first academy he took me there.”
THE TURNING POINT
The turning point for Kanu came when he starred for Oriwu Model College football team (his then secondary school based in Ikorodu) in inter-schools competitions and regional tournaments.
“Things began to change for me the moment my school Oriwu College got to the final of the Principal’s Cup in 2009/2010 and I captained the team in the Lagos International Tournament where we played against teams from The Netherlands, South Africa and Liberty FC of Ghana. So from there everything began to move in the direction I have always dreamt of.
“I got invited to trial with Bridge FC and from there I went to play for Gateway FC. I came back to Lagos and played for First Bank FC. There on I got the opportunity to come to Europe but during this period it wasn’t easy. It was by the Grace of God.
“I got some agent who scouted me back then in Nigeria which got me the offer to come play in Slovakia. My first few months was great to be precise because I found myself on European soil. That was a dream come true for me.”
THE SLOVAKIAN ADVENTURE
Kanu was 22-years-old at the time he signed for FK Spisska Nova Ves who were then in the Slovak second tier in 2016. He enjoyed a bright start to life there before a serious injury curtailed his progression in the second year.
“My second year in Slovakia was very difficult. I was sidelined for six months by a knee ligament injury. It was a really tough year for me,” Kanu recounted his injury nightmare.
Undeterred by the setback, he bounced back from several months out and signed for Inter Bratislava, another second division outfit in early 2018.
At the start of the 2018/19 season, he linked up with FC ViOn Zlate Moravce in the Slovak top tier league on a loan transfer but left six months later without making a single appearance for the club due to fitness issues.
Kanu’s nomadic career saw him turn out for two more lower division Slovak side’s before he joined the struggling FK Slavoj Trebisov before the start of the 2020/21 campaign where he along with another Nigerian named Issa Adekunle would combine to score 27 goals in the season to help Slavoj remain in the second division.
It was Kanu who shone the most though, as he scored 18 of those goals in 27 appearances which was the highest in the league. He became a household name in all over Slovakia and higher clubs began circling for his signature.
The attacking midfielder ended months of speculation on his future by completing a transfer to MFK Zemplin Michalovce in the Slovak top tier, the Furtuna Liga on a two-year contract in June.
While not the most glamorous of leagues, the Fortuna Liga has been a stepping stone for a number of Nigerians who have gone on to reach the upper echelons of football including Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu.
Bordeaux winger and Nigerian international, Samuel Kalu arrived Slovakia in 2016 (at AS Trencin), the same year Kanu did. While their careers have gone in different directions, the now 27-years-old Kanu still hopes to follow in the footsteps of his compatriots by going as high as he possibly can in the game and he harbors the dream of one day representing his country Nigeria.
“I have no regrets regarding my choices so far. My biggest dream is to reach an elite stage in my football career and also to one day represent my beloved country, the Super Eagles of Nigeria.”