Two weeks after the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey, news came through on Saturday 18 February that Ghanaian footballer Christian Atsu had been found dead under the rubble of his luxury apartment block, in the southern province of Hatay.
This comes after initial reports in the aftermath of the disaster, suggested that Atsu had been rescued and although he had sustained unspecified injuries, he was “alive and safe”. Sadly in all the confusion this materialised as a false claim and he was actually still unaccounted for, and now his family have received the heartbreaking confirmation that he has lost his life.
The Ghanaian foreign ministry stated that the player’s elder brother and twin sister were at the site when his body was recovered and he was flown back to Ghana immediately for a burial on Saturday. The ministry sent its “deepest condolences to the widow and family.”
It has emerged that the 31-year-old international, who had spells with Premier League sides Everton, Chelsea and Newcastle, cancelled a flight that would have left at 11pm the previous night, five hours before the quake hit. He had scored an injury-time winner for his side Hatayspur in a Turkish Super Lig clash against Kasimpasa earlier in the day, and it is thought that had encouraged him to stay over and travel 24 hours later.
At St James’ Park there was an emotional tribute paid to the player before Newcastle’s home fixture with Liverpool. His tearful wife and children joined a minute’s applause from the capacity crowd for the popular midfielder, who played at the club for four years between 2017 and 2021.
Portugal meeting led to happy marriage
Christian Atsu met Mario-Clare Rupio when playing for Porto in Portugal in 2012, when he was just 20-years-old. They wasted no time getting married and the couple have three children. His wife revealed that she had spoken to her husband for the last time on 4 February, a day before he scored his first goal for Hatayspor, the club he had joined back in September last year, after a season with Saudi Arabian team Al-Raed.
After leaving Portugal in 2013 he moved to Chelsea, but was allowed out on loan on two occasions to Everton and Bournemouth. Then a third loan spell to Newcastle saw his new side gain promotion to the Premier League, which led to a permanent move to the club in 2017, where he would stay for four seasons.
He won 65 caps for his country and helped them reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final, where although he suffered the disappointment of losing to Ivory Coast on penalty kicks, he gained some slight consolation in being named the player of the tournament.
Agent breaks the sad news
Agent Nana Sechere, broke the news writing: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to announce to all well wishers that sadly Christian Atsu’s body was recovered this morning.” He sent his deepest condolences to his family and loved ones, whilst also taking the opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and support.
His top-flight club tweeted: “There are no words to describe our sadness; we will not forget you, peace be upon you, beautiful person.”
His Ghana international team, known to many as the Black Stars paid tribute to the winger, saying: “You served our Country well, forever in our hearts. Rest in Peace.”
Fan favourite at Newcastle
Newcastle flying winger Allan Saint-Maximin spoke glowingly about his former team-mate shortly before his side’s game against Liverpool on Saturday. “It is hard to explain, I am not going to lie, I had never seen a guy like that before when I arrived. He was always giving me advice, always joking and smiling, so that is why it is so sad for me.”
He made 121 appearances for the north-east outfit and was very much a fan favourite as they sung his name around the stadium after hearing the tragic news. His face illuminated the video scoreboard as shirts bearing the star’s name could be spotted amongst the 52,000 crowd.
The club said it was “profoundly saddened” and called him “a talented player and a special person, who will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters.”
Benitez struggling to find words
His former manager at the club, Rafael Benitez, admitted he was finding it hard to express in English precisely how bad he felt on hearing the news. The Spaniard who was in charge for the first three years of Atsu’s stay in Newcastle said that he had been in contact with his former player only last month, sharing some messages. The experienced boss said: “Today we have to remember Christian, it is really sad.”
He went on to acknowledge the many others who are also suffering after the devastation caused by the earthquakes, remarking: “I do not want to forget the rest of the people because there are a lot that have been in a really difficult time and I think we have to help.”
Prem clubs pay respects
Two of his other Premiership clubs sent their own messages with Everton saying they were “deeply saddened” by the news; while Chelsea said they were “devastated”. At all the fixtures in the Premier League over the weekend there was a minutes applause in remembrance of the highly respected player.
Ghana sports broadcaster Michael Oti Adjei lavished praise on the stricken player, remembering how when he first broke into the national team he was talked about as “Ghana’s Messi”, with good judges spotting potential that could have made him one of the best African players ever.
He also paid tribute to Atsu the man, saying: “He was always grounded, a lovely person to deal with, and he had a nice word for everybody.”
The administrative manager at his current club Hatayspor, Faith Ilek, repeated the tragic turn of events that has ultimately cost the player his life: “He was going abroad to visit his family, but he played well and scored a last-minute goal in the Kasımpasa match so cancelled his ticket. It is absolutely a tragedy.”