Nigeria and Tigres UNAL striker Uchenna Kanu is drawing the most attention from media and fans in Mexico by lighting up the Mexican Liga MX with her superb goalscoring prowess.
After joining Tigres UNAL, Kanu did not only just become the first Nigerian woman but also the first African to play in Mexico following a rule change to allow the signing of non-Mexicans.
The 2019 African Women’s Footballer of the Year nominee continued her blistering debut season during the week when she netted her second hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Santos Laguna.
And Kanu says moving to the country was a ‘stepping stone’ in her career as she is aiming to open doors for fellow Africans by her scintillating form in the Mexican Liga MX with Tigres.
“I’m honoured, coming to Mexico is been great and the people here are nice, not just the teammates, not the club but the whole city, the fans,” the Abia State-born striker told CAFOnline.com.
“I’ve not seen fans like that of Tigres, I am thankful for the opportunity to represent Nigeria, my family and myself here in Mexico.
“As the first Nigerian and African to play in Mexico is huge, a stepping stone and opening the door for other Nigerians and Africans to join. Just putting the name of Nigeria on the map positively, it’s been great and I am grateful for the opportunity.”
During her four-year studies at South Eastern University, she had over 100 games, emerging as the all-time top-scorer with 157 goals and even has November 18 dedicated to her as “Uchenna Kanu Day”.
To launch her professional stint full time, the Nigerian left the United States after her graduation with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sports Management at Sevilla in January 2020.
Six months later, she moved to Sweden, where she made a huge breakthrough, scoring 22 goals in 42 games for Linkopings before her big-money switch to the fast-growing Liga MX.
“Playing in Sweden, I don’t like it too much cold but I focused on what took me there. So, when it comes to playing, Sweden is one of the top leagues in the world,” said the 24-year-old forward.
“Playing there prepared and inspired me really well physically, and mentally. I learned so much in Sweden. I think it’s stereotypical how people view Mexico, no one could really say what it is like there.
“Right here it’s totally different, the league is competitive, and the players are professional. I like it here. Being the first African and Nigerian to play here, I hope my former teammates and fellow Africans from back home can join the league and just help build and grow it more.
“I’m just focused on getting better, learning about cultures, the pattern played here and making friends. It’s been great in Sweden, in Spain and here now in Mexico and I’m prepared to keep going forward.”
Since making her debut in Mexican football against Necaxa on January 10, the highly-rated forward has hit double figures, scoring 10 goals in 13 games, including hat-tricks twice for second-placed Tigres.
Despite her incredible start to life, the Nigerian insists
she is under no pressure to excel and also inspire her Liga MX side to domestic podium successes in the country.
“I don’t feel any pressure right now, but there are expectations, that’s is part of the journey. Opening doors for my former teammates, I just want them to make a move if they really want to come here,” she appealed.
“The league is competitive, there are professional players here and has well we could play our part in making it better. As more athlete comes in the league gets better. For now, I am just focused on helping my team get better, no pressure at all, I just need to do what I know how to do best.”
Two years after beginning her professional stint, she had gone on to star in European top leagues with Sevilla and Linkopings before her shock move to a less fancied competitive division.
And the Delta Queens product is unmoved by questions over her decision to shun offers from top European clubs for the North American nation as her sight is now on achieving great things with Tigres.
“It’s the thing about this, it stereotypes, I am here and I am really enjoying myself, I just want to be happy when playing my football,” she continued.
“I care less about what people say about the league’s standard, or about me moving to my league, that, as my happiness is one of my goals.
“I have other places I could go, but I wanted to try other things, different cultures. I am focused on my happiness, so, if I could get happiness, that’s all that matters. I’ve friends that are making inquiries and wanted to come.
“I think, the Mexican league is competitive and the more people come in, it definitely gets better. Just to mention, Sweden and Spain are just like playing in the top leagues, and here in Mexico, we are growing,” she continued.
“I think more professional athletes in the world will join to make this happen, with what I’ve seen it’s really good here and I’m doing my best for the team, for myself, to be happy and have fun.
“My target is to score as many goals as I can, I work hard to score every game, there is no number to what goals I want to get, I just put in my best to see the team win trophies.”
Eight of Nigeria’s nine African titles have been won by all Nigerian-born players and under domestic coaches before the ninth triumph at Ghana 2018 under the tutelage of Swedish Thomas Dennerby, who later guided the country to her first Women’s World Cup knockout stage appearance in 20 years.
Ahead of Morocco 2022, the Falcons have enjoyed busy windows under American Randy Waldrum, who took over in October 2020 and Kanu has extolled the working of former Trinidad and Tobago tactician.
“Of course, working with him has been good so far. I think he is a good coach and has the best interest of the team at heart, the little time we’ve had, he’s doing really well, he’s always positive,” she enthused.
“He’s brought a lot to the team through training with his technical assistants. It is now left for us to work as a team and do what he asks us to do in terms of formation and tactical strategies. I can’t wait to continue working with him.”
In the last 12 months, the Super Falcons are a different set-up with the influx of foreign-born players, notably Toni Payne, Ifeoma Onumonu, Esther Okoronkwo and Ashleigh Plumptre.
In February, they defeated Cote d’Ivoire 3-0 on aggregate to seal their WAFCON qualification thanks to a first-leg brace from Onumonu at home and an away second leg strike of Okoronkwo.
And Kanu has praised the arrival of the overseas-born Nigerians as she believes they have brought competition into the team and also improved the ranks of the senior women’s national team.
“It’s good to have them on the team, to mix up different mentality and styles, to incorporate them with the team, to bring in their style of play and give the team a blend of foreign and local players,” she noted.
“They also create chemistry within the team, and I think they are good players, if you watch the recent games, you’ll know that. They are scoring and defending well as their positions are.”
2019 was a breakthrough year for Kanu as scored 10 goals in five games for the Super Falcons as they lifted the WAFU B Cup and she was rewarded with a spot at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
To play my debut WAFCON with the team, I will be very excited and looking forward to doing great things, scoring goals. I know we have a good team and are ready to defend the trophy.Uchenna Kanu
Three years after making her World Cup debut, she is now relishing the prospect of a title-winning debut at the TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco.
“First of all, playing in the WAFU Cup was a really great step and excited to be part of the team. I am also grateful to represent Nigeria anywhere, any day,” she recounted.
“Playing in the Women’s World Cup meant a lot and was the peak of my career and I never take it for granted. Those two competitions prepared me to settle well, find my legs and understand the team more.
“To play my debut WAFCON with the team, I will be very excited and looking forward to doing great things, scoring goals. I know we have a good team and are ready to defend the trophy.”
The WAFU-B Cup title was her first career recognition, earning her a 2019 African Women’s Player of the Year nomination and now she dreams of becoming one of the best on the continent.
“For the award, I am thankful and honoured to be a part of that shortlist, and grateful to be nominated. I work hard and always try to be the best that I can be,” she revealed.
“It is part of my dream to be one of the best not just in Africa but in the world. It was huge and means a lot to me. It motivates me to keep working hard not just to be nominated, but also to win it.”
In October, the Super Falcons survived a scare from the perennial foes Ghana, advancing on a 2-1 aggregate win thanks to Kanu’s brace in the 2-0 first leg, first round triumph over the Black Queens.
The former youth international has scored 12 goals for Nigeria at the senior level and insists Randy Waldrum’s side remains the team to beat at the first ever 12-nation women’s showpiece.
“There is huge growth among African teams, they are been tougher to match up with Nigeria, so the Super Falcons need to focus on making sure no team get to our level,” the Tigres star added.
“I think the team is good and going well. We need to work on building team chemistry and make sure the Super Falcons remain the best. We need to work on maintaining that standard.
“We just need to train and focus on the things to get better at. The chances of Nigeria winning WAFCON is very high. I believe in the team because we have a good squad, we are prepared and I’m hopeful.
“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be tough because other teams are getting better. We won’t have to just sit on that, but we have a good team and we are definitely going to win.”
Enoch loves to write about intriguing issues in entertainment, sports, and general news