Charlton AthleticSport

Humble and grounded – South London Press exclusive interview with highly-rated Charlton teenager Daniel Kanu

Daniel Kanu is determined to stay grounded despite a dream February which has seen him sign a long-term professional deal at Charlton Athletic and also make his first-team debut.

The 17-year-old striker had scored 31 goals before the end of January at  various junior levels for the South London club.

And Lambeth-born Kanu, who lived in Kennington before he moved to Dartford at the age of two, was an 82nd-minute replacement for Mason Burstow in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Wigan Athletic.

There is serious hype around Kanu, who holds the Dartford Schools FA record for the most goals scored in a season – 67 for Wentworth Primary School in 2015-16, 17 more than his nearest rival.

That was the same season that Kanu, who had a short spell playing for Bexleyheath-based Junior Reds,  joined Charlton as an U10, initially on a six-week trial.

Now signed on a contract until at least 2024, the blisteringly quick frontman’s desire was to commit to the Addicks and progress.

“It was 100 per cent always on my mind to stay – the pathway here is undeniable,” Kanu, who was born at St Thomas’ Hospital, exclusively told the South London Press. “I’ve been at the club nearly half my life and they have helped me and shaped me into the player I am right now.

Picture: Kyle Andrews

“You try not to get too far ahead of yourself. Sometimes I need to tell myself that I’ve done well but there is a lot more I need to improve on. But, at the same time, I have a lot of confidence in my ability. I’m playing with no fear, that allows me to express myself and show what I’m about.”

And that’s goals. Lots of them. At U18 level he recently scored four against QPR. And there were hat-tricks in a 6-3 win at Millwall in October. Kanu also produced a treble in a 6-0 victory over Northampton in the FA Youth Cup.

When Charlton’s U13s reached the national final – losing out to Liverpool at Loughborough University – he finished on 87 goals.

“When I first joined I was just someone who was really quick and had a natural ability to finish,” said Kanu, whose parents are from Sierra Leone.

“What the coaches at Charlton did was mould me into a well-rounded player – not just an attacker – and make me understand about the defensive duties you need to fulfil as well.

“They helped me to adapt to various circumstances that I can find myself in during a game. But they also helped me as a person, not just on the football side. I became a lot calmer and more collected.

“Before I could become really, really frustrated after games and you wouldn’t be able to talk to me. I’m not talking about for a couple of hours – it could last until the next game. And that frustration can also leak into things to do with daily life.

“The coaches wanted me to firstly understand I wasn’t going to score every game – which was the biggest shock to my system ever when I reached 14 or 15!

“But the advice was that the best players always react from mistakes – and react positively.

Picture: Kyle Andrews

“I’ve scored 31 goals this season but it’s not like I’ve only had 31 shots. I’ve probably had 50, 60 or 70 shots. It’s still frustrating when you miss but because of what I’ve been taught during my time at the club it means I’m in the right frame of mind to finish the next chance when it comes.”

Kanu describes his cousin as “shaping” him into a Manchester United fan as a youngster. His role models growing up have been Old Trafford greats

Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo along with Bundesliga goal machine Robert Lewandowski. The prospect admits that his dad Edward knows the right buttons to press when he has needed a gee up.

“I might be sat on the sofa watching TV and he’d say to me: ‘That’s what average people do’,” explained Kanu. “Then he’d start naming my idols and asking if I thought they’d be doing that.

“He’d start talking about Wayne Rooney doing this and that – scoring overhead kicks – and Ronaldo being 100 years old and still looking like he is still 18. Those little reminders were all I needed. I want to play at the highest level.”

So how much of a player’s success is based on their natural talent compared to how they apply themselves?

Charlton academy boss Steve Avory, who has had more than two decades working with a steady production line of Premier League-bound talent, describes Kanu as a role-model for scholars.

“I always put it down to hard work, dedication and discipline,” said Kanu. “The main one is discipline. You can be as talented as you want but if you are not disciplined enough then it is all for nothing.

“It’s simple things like coming to training on time and being on time to team meetings – all those things shape you into becoming a better person.

“There are countless stories about players where you hear they have all the ability in the world and then suddenly you don’t hear about them again. Hard work and motivation is needed as well.

Picture: Kyle Andrews

“You need motivation. Some people might play football for the money – I play because I really, really enjoy the game.

“This is one part of my journey – a very, very long journey.

“You might not retire until 34 or 35 and I’m 17. This is just the beginning. I want to take it all in my  stride and relish it. I don’t want to neglect any part of it.”

Kanu became Charlton’s 941st debutant since 1921, when they were voted into the football league.

Injuries to Chuks Aneke, Conor Washington and Jayden Stockley left the League One side badly depleted for frontline options at the DW Stadium.

Kanu had played the full 90 minutes in midweek as the Addicks bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the hands of Brighton.

“We had a recovery session on Thursday and that night I got a call from Jason Euell saying I needed to pack my bags and get ready to travel,” said the youngster.

“It came as quite a shock. The main emotions were excitement and pride.

“Jason went through set-pieces with me before I came on – he said to get in there and just try and disrupt their defence. The manager told me to enjoy myself.

“I thought I did well, under the circumstances we were in – 2-1 down, away from home against a team second in the league.”

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