For a player who has never knowingly broken sweat, Nwankwo Kanu can have a remarkable influence on games. Yesterday, as Portsmouth swept to a comfortable victory, Kanu was quite magnificent. It was a performance that left his manager, Harry Redknapp, spellbound.
Even in his youth Kanu was never a player who exactly fizzed with energy, but since turning 30 in August, he now plays with the languid authority of a zen master. This was a performance full of ambling trots, cleverly-angled passes and backheels, spinning triangles and showing all the imagination and control of a puppet master at the height of his art. "He's been fantastic," said Redknapp. "Seven goals this season and he keeps heading the ball as well - I didn't know he could do that. We all believe in him, build him up, keep telling him how good he is. He's my type of player. When he gets the ball he can do something with it."
Even when Kanu does not get the ball, he does something with it, having seemingly developed the skill to persuade others to score goals for him. He was jogging behind the Reading defender Brynjar Gunnarsson when he nodded in an inswinging corner from Pedro Mendes. He did deign to score the second himself, glancing in Sol Campbell's cross with typical minimalism, but again it came after he had confused poor Gunnarsson, sending him appealing vainly for offside as Ivar Ingimarsson played everybody on. The Icelandic full-back will not have enjoyed his first Premiership start.
It only serves to emphasise Kanu's casualness that he plays alongside the throbbing bundle of nervousness that is Benjani Mwaruwari. "Benji's as honest as the day is long," Redknapp said. "I like him. He runs and runs and is always looking to get in behind players. But his finishing..." Yes, his finishing: there's the rub. That he has scored three goals this season is perhaps the most extraordinary statistic of this Premiership season so far.
Eleven minutes after the opening goal, Kanu turned casually in the six-yard box, induced Ibrahima Sonko to drift a few yards in the wrong direction, and crossed low to the back-post where his strike partner seemed to have a simple tap-in. A wall could have scored it, but Benjani allowed the ball to roll under his foot. For a brief second the mask of studied indifference slipped, and Kanu tossed his hands in the air in momentary disgust. On the bench, it is safe to assume, Andy Cole and Lomana LuaLua were rather more frustrated. "He comes from Zimbabwe," as the home fans serenaded Benjani when he was finally substituted after 72 minutes, "he should have scored today". His effort, evidently, is enough in winning praise to excuse his multitude of sins.
Mendes was also roared from the pitch, but there was no irony in his ovation. He got the third, rapping in a fine volley after a weak clearing header from Kevin Doyle after 66 minutes. At that point it was virtually target practice, and only a superb save from Marcus Hahnemann prevented the Portuguese midfielder thumping in an even better fourth.
Portsmouth eased off after Kanu had departed with 10 minutes remaining, leading to a brief Reading siege in which Mendes was fortunate to get away with a handball on the line.
Doyle may have forced in his fourth of the season after 84 minutes, but this was as comfortable as Premiership victories come.Reuse content