At club level, Nwankwo Kanu often wore number 9 for Ajax, fitting into their traditional system.
When he joined Internazionale, he was given 11 as his squad number while his move to Arsenal in 1998-99 saw him don 25, with which he became heavily associated. However, at international level, the digit on his back was most unusual.
Let’s be honest, 4 isn’t often seen being worn by strikers. A predecessor of Kanu at Arsenal, Kevin Campbell, did wear it a few times in 1991-92, and Steve Nicol played up front for Liverpool on very rare occasions, but, beyond that, examples are (rightly) rare. Kanu’s wearing of 4 is a regular feature of those articles which look at unusual numbers, while he has also inspired unemployed men to copy him.
How and why did he wear it? Well, it seems it was a tribute to two heroes, as he explains himself:
I think I was comfortable wearing jersey number 4. My older brother, who was somebody l looked up to, wore number 4. Big Boss [Stephen] Keshi, one of my idols, also wore number 4 and if you check this number, if you are not intelligent and smart you cannot wear it.
“If I have a player wearing 4 and he is not intelligent, I will take the shirt from him and give it to another person. Number 10 is meant for superstars and it is the choice of everybody but not everyone can get it. So if you want to be a superstar, you go for number 10.
“I wasn’t a superstar when I started but God made me a superstar eventually. For me, number 4 is my choice because my big brother was wearing it and he was somebody I wanted to be like.
“Keshi also made me to like the number because he is a leader and showed that quality in the Super Eagles and I wanted to be like him too. So it was number 4 that was my preferred choice.
Former Nigerian captain Keshi was a defender and so 4 was natural choice for him:
When I was growing up, I had three idols. They were playing in the same position and I was studying them. One of them was Franz Beckenbauer, the others were Bobby Moore, the late England captain, and a former Nigerian captain that I took over from, Christian Chukwu.
“Bobby Moore wore number 6, Beckenbauer had number 4 and Chukwu was number 5. I had seen their style of play and I wanted to be part of them. I had a coach from Yugoslavia. I was in the junior team then and he said to me: “Hey Keshi, I want you to wear number 4.
“I looked at him and [thought], ‘How does he know that I am contemplating on which number to wear?” That was how I just picked number 4.
“One of my sons, if he’s playing, he wants to wear number 4. My daughter, if she’s playing, she wants to wear number 4. So it’s just a number I just love to have.