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Editorials, Sports

Former Nigerian Stars Thriving Beyond the Game

Bounce highlights Nigerian stars who have transitioned from athletic excellence to influential roles, leaving a legacy in and out of sports.

  • Toyosi Afolayan
  • 18th April 2024

Nigerian sporting legends are known for their abilities on the field, track, and court, but their journeys often extend far beyond the roar of the spectators. Take Kanu Nwankwo, Chioma Ajunwa, Chiney Ogwumike, and Michael Emenalo. These former stars have transitioned from captivating audiences with their athletic brilliance to leaving their mark in the sporting world’s boardrooms, communities, and media.


BOUNCE takes a look at these individuals and how they have demonstrated their acumen in navigating the complex terrain of the sports industry, changing the game, and setting the pace.


Kanu Nwankwo (Papilo)


More than just a nickname, “Papilo” has become synonymous with both on-field brilliance and off-field compassion. The former Nigerian forward, whose playing career garnered him legendary status, has transitioned seamlessly into a world of philanthropy and entrepreneurial ventures, ensuring his impact continues to resonate far beyond his illustrious days on the pitch.



Central to Kanu’s enduring legacy is the Kanu Heart Foundation. This noble non-profit organisation, established by the footballer himself, tackles a critical issue – providing life-saving heart surgeries for underprivileged children across Africa.Β 



In July 2023, Kanu became the chairman of Enyimba Football Club. This news sent ripples throughout the country’s football sector, not least because of the groundbreaking partnership Kanu secured with, the world’s leading cryptocurrency casino, and sportsbook, as the club’s primary shirt sponsor.



The partnership is elevating Enyimba’s profile on a global scale.’s logo is now being displayed on the club’s jerseys, digital platforms, and across the iconic Enyimba International Stadium.


Chioma Ajunwa


The retired Nigerian long jump specialist, whose name is etched in sports history, has shown a deep commitment to community development. Ajunwa’s transition from track-and-field to entrepreneurial leadership is a testament to her decision to foster positive change.



At the core of Ajunwa’s entrepreneurial spirit lies the Chioma Ajunwa Foundation. This impactful initiative serves as a beacon of hope for young Nigerians, channeling Ajunwa’s passion for sports and education into empowering the next generation. The foundation exemplifies her multifaceted approach to entrepreneurship, encompassing not just business acumen but also a dedication to nurturing talent and fostering a culture of excellence. Ajunwa’s initiatives extend beyond sports administration, incorporating coaching programs designed to equip young people with the skills and discipline needed to thrive.



Ajunwa’s influence extends far beyond the foundation. As a police officer in Nigeria, she champions the transformative power of sports in creating positive social change. A staunch advocate for youth empowerment and crime prevention, Ajunwa recognizes the ability of sports to build character, instill discipline, and foster a sense of community cohesion.


Chiney Ogwumike


Chiney Ogwumike‘s story isn’t confined to the hardwood. The Nigerian-American professional basketball player isn’t just leaving her mark on the WNBA; she’s weaving a narrative of excellence, leadership, and social responsibility that extends far beyond the court.


Ogwumike’s journey began at Stanford University, where she wasn’t just a star player, but a dominant force. Her performances were rewarded with a trophy cabinet overflowing with accolades, including Pac-12 Player of the Year and two coveted All-American selections. This stellar collegiate career was merely the launchpad for her successful foray into the professional arena, the WNBA.



Landing with the Connecticut Sun in 2014, Ogwumike wasted no time making her mark. Her performance earned her the Rookie of the Year award. Since then, she’s become a mainstay, consistently selected for the WNBA All-Star Game, and becoming one of the league’s elite talents.



But Ogwumike’s brilliance isn’t confined to dazzling displays of athleticism. She has emerged as a respected voice in sports media, captivating audiences with insightful commentary and analysis for giants like ESPN and NBC Sports. Her exceptional communication skills have earned her praise from fans and fellow professionals alike.Β 



Ogwumike’s influence extends far beyond the court and the broadcast booth. She is a dedicated philanthropist and advocate, particularly when it comes to education, women’s empowerment, and social justice.Β 


Michael Emenalo


Michael Emenalo‘s career is a masterclass in versatility and impact. He isn’t confined to a single role within the vast world of football; he has excelled across them all. From gracing the pitch as a player to orchestrating superstar signings in the boardroom, Emenalo’s influence on the beautiful game continues to resonate on a global scale.


His journey began on the field, showcasing his talent with Nigerian club, Enugu Rangers and venturing abroad to Belgium’s Molenbeek. He even took his skills across the Atlantic, leaving his mark on Major League Soccer with the San Jose Clash (now San Jose Earthquakes) and the Boston Bulldogs.



Retirement didn’t spell the end for Emenalo. He transitioned into sports management and administration, finding his most notable success at Chelsea FC. For over a decade, he held various key positions at the club, rising from Chief Scout to Assistant First Team Coach and ultimately to Technical Director. In this role, he played a major part in shaping Chelsea’s football strategy. His eye for talent oversaw player recruitment and youth development, ultimately contributing to the club’s success in securing numerous Premier League titles, FA Cups, and European trophies.



Emenalo’s Midas touch in the transfer market was undeniable. During his tenure at Chelsea, he was instrumental in bringing in some of the world’s top players, including Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and N’Golo Kante. These signings not only bolstered Chelsea’s dominance but also solidified Emenalo’s reputation as a shrewd talent scout.


Emenalo’s influence wasn’t confined to Stamford Bridge. After departing Chelsea in 2017, he continued to make waves, taking on roles at other prominent clubs like AS Monaco and NordsjΓ¦lland.



Most recently, he assumed a pivotal role in leading the Saudi Pro League project as Director of Football. This ambitious project, backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) with its colossal $777 billion in assets, aims to elevate the league’s global profile. Emenalo’s expertise in recruitment will be central to attracting top talents and propelling the Saudi Pro League onto the world stage.

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