Last month, a devastating earthquake claimed the lives of over 50,000 people in Turkey and Syria, including Hatayspor’s Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu. Born in Ada Foah, Greater Accra Region, Atsu grew up in extreme poverty as one of ten siblings, with his father working as a fisherman and a farmer on the banks of the Volta River. He would develop at the Feyenoord Football Academy in Gomoa Fetteh, in the Central Region of Ghana and later attended the West Africa Football Academy at Sogakope in the Volta Region of Ghana, before moving to Cheetah FC in Kasoa.
It is here in Cheetah where Atsu began to draw interest from various clubs, eventually moving to FC Porto in 2009 at the age of 17. Atsu was loaned out to Rio Ave alongside Porto teammate Kelvin for the 2011/12 season, racking up 6 goals and 4 assists in 31 appearances before returning to the Dragão, making 17 league appearances as Porto won their third consecutive Primeira Liga title.
This form caught the eye of Chelsea, who signed him for £3.5 million on September 1, 2013, before loaning him out to Vitesse, Everton, Bournemouth, Málaga and Newcastle. Atsu joined Newcastle on a permanent deal in 2017 without making a single appearance for the Blues, with the Ghanaian making 121 appearances for the Magpies before spending a year at Saudi side Al Raed and joining Turkish side Hatayspor on September 6, 2022.
A full Ghana international with 65 caps from 2012 to 2019, Atsu represented Ghana at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments. He helped the team finish as runners-up at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in which he also won Player of the Tournament and Goal of the Tournament, before being named in the Team of the Tournament in 2017 as the Black Stars finished fourth.
On 6 February 2023, Atsu went missing after he scored a late winning goal for Hatayspor, a day before the earthquake. He was feared to be among those trapped under the rubble of Hatayspor’s headquarters in Antakya following the earthquake. Atsu had been scheduled to fly out of southern Turkey hours before the quake, but Hatayspor’s manager said he stayed with the club after scoring the winning goal in their last game.
On 7 February, club vice-president Mustafa Özat said Atsu had been rescued and was recovering in hospital, while on 8 February, manager Volkan Demirel said that Atsu and sporting director Taner Savut were still missing. On 14 February, Atsu’s agent confirmed two pairs of his shoes had been found, but that Atsu himself had still not been found. On Saturday, the 18th of February confirmation was received by his agent that his body was recovered from the rubble of the building he was residing in. News outlets reported his death at approximately 6 a.m.
Tributes poured in from his former clubs, teammates, and teams throughout the footballing world, with Atsu leaving behind not only an impressive footballing career but an even greater life outside of the pitch. Atsu was more than a footballer — he was also an ambassador for many children’s charity foundations. In Ghana, he financed the Becky’s Foundation, which caters to orphans.
He had even started building a school for the orphanage, which is made up of nine classrooms, libraries, a pitch and ultramodern libraries, before his death. He was also an ambassador of the charity organisation Arms Around the Child. Atsu paid the fines of 53 poor people, who were in prison for petty crimes in Ghana in 2018 and also gave them money to start a business.
He upgraded the football pitch in Awutu Prison Camp. He donated to schools and hundreds of items to an orphanage in Senya Berekum. Two years ago, Atsu came to Ghana during the off-season and brought a huge pile of football boots from himself and a few teammates to donate to charity. Abdul Haye Yartey, the owner of Cheetah FC, has revealed that Christian Atsu gave a church in Ghana the first salary he received at the Portuguese club FC Porto. Fans of his former club, Newcastle United, have started a charity initiative to finish a school project Christian Atsu started in Senya Beraku.
The body of Ghana winger Christian Atsu was flown home to Accra on Sunday evening, the day after he was found dead. Atsu’s twin sister, Christiana Twasam, broke down in tears as Christian’s remains arrived at the Kotoka International Airport, Ghana, on Sunday night. Former Black Stars players visited Atsu’s family to sympathize with them, including Asamoah Gyan, Baffour Gyan, Sulley Aliu Muntari, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Kwadwo Asamoah and Haminu Dramani, who visited the family house of the late Ghanaian football player to make donations to the family as a form of support and also signed a book of condolence.
On Wednesday, February 22, 2023, the President of Liberia, George Oppong Weah sent a delegation on his behalf to mourn with Atsu’s family and donated $10,000 to them. A mural of Atsu has been painted in the Awudu Issaka park in Tema Community 20 to celebrate his life in his community, with the one-week observation of his death set to take place on March 4.
By: Gideon Amoah / @Laka993
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Serena Taylor / Newcastle United