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Ghana to Türkiye, how Christian Atsu won matches and hearts across nations

Christian Atsu’s last on-field action was as stunning as his footballing career – a 90th-minute free-kick goal for his club Hatayspor in a thrilling 1-0 win over Kasimpasa in the Turkish Super Lig on February 5.

On February 18, his body was recovered from under the rubble of a building that collapsed in the February 6 twin earthquakes that devastated 11 provinces in southern and southeastern Türkiye and adjoining Syria and killed more than 47,000 people in the two countries.

But Atsu – he was just 31 – will be remembered as much as a devout humanist, loving husband, father, and philanthropist, as he will be remembered as a natural football talent from Ghana who rose out of poverty and inequalities to make the world his playground. 

One of the most profound tributes to Atsu came from popular Nigerian comedian and actor Emmanuel Ogonna Iwueke – famous as Dr. Craze – who said that the footballer paid for his education after the death of his father. “When I lost my dad, he reached out and offered to pay my fees til I graduated, and he did…(sic),” the 31-year-old comic tweeted.

His coffin, covered in Ghana’s national flag, was received at the Accra airport by the African country’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia and given a guard of honour by the army. 

Atsu was married to German writer Marie-Claire Rupio with whom he had two sons and a daughter. 

Photos Atsu posted on social media showing him playing with his children endeared him to his fans as a symbol of the loving family man. 

Humble beginnings

Atsu was born in Ada Foah in the Greater Accra region of Ghana on January 10, 1992, to an impoverished family – one of ten children of his late father, who provided for his family by fishing and farming near the Volta river.

Atsu trained at the Feyenoord football academy, opened by the Dutch team in Ghana, and caught the eye of a scout from the Portuguese club Porto. By the age of 17, Atsu was transferred to the Portuguese giant. It was the beginning of his successful professional career.

Playing for Porto in the 2012-2013 season, Atsu took his place in the starting 11 in nine games. That season, Porto became the league champion for the third time. He made 17 appearances for Porto.

He also won 65 caps for the Ghana national team – the Black Stars – and helped them reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final, where they lost to Ivory Coast on penalties. 

The Africa Cup appearance was one of his most dazzling on-field performances, as he won the Player of the Tournament and Goal of the Tournament awards, which also brought him comparisons with Argentine great Lionel Messi. He last played for the national team in 2019.

He was loaned to Rio after two years at Porto. The Ghanaian player scored six goals in 27 games for Rio Ave and made his way to England in 2013. In September 2013, he signed a five-year contract with the top Premier League club Chelsea for €3.5 million.

In the 2013-14 season, Chelsea loaned him to Dutch Club SBV Vitesse, for whom he played 28 games and scored five goals. The team finished the league in 6th place and made it to the European play-off tour.

On loan to Premier League club Everton in 2014, Bournemouth in 2015, and Malaga and Newcastle United in 2016, the star player signed a four-year contract with Newcastle United in May 2017 for a transfer fee of €6.2 million.

He played for the Saudi league team Al Raed in the 2021-2022 season and came to Türkiye the Hatayspor jersey for 2022-23. 

It was to be his last action.   

Charity work

In a 2019 interview, Atsu put his success on the strength of his faith and laid out his vision for his humanitarian work.  

“I donate often, so they can buy food and stuff,” Atsu had said about the less privileged while recalling sharing a small room with his siblings, including a twin sister. 

He is known to have donated generously to building schools and healthcare facilities. “I want everyone to have the chance of education,” he was quoted as saying. 

Atsu also frequently organised campaigns, especially for children in Africa. He provided home protection, education, and support for children orphaned or abused in different parts of the world, including his home country.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo mourned the death of Atsu, saying that “football has lost one of its finest ambassadors, one who will be difficult to replace”.

And last week, Atsu’s Ghanaian international and Ajax star Mohammed Kudus dedicated his free-kick goal against Sparta Rotterdam to Atsu – the 22-year-old midfielder unveiled a shirt inside his jersey with the inscription ‘R.I.P Atsu’.

Junior career

2009-2011 Porto

Professional career

2011-2013 Porto

2011-2012 Rio Ave

2013-2017 Chelsea

2013-2014 Vitesse (on loan)

2014-2015 Everton (on loan)

2015-2016 Bournemouth (on loan)

2016 Malaga (on loan)

2016-2017 Newcastle United (on loan)

2017-2021 Newcastle United

2021-2022 Al-Raed

2022-2023 Hatayspor

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