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Christian Atsu: Angels play football


Minute 67, and the Black Stars have hit five past Lesotho, and though the fifth goal was not one of destiny, it was one which sold promise and dreams.

Shortly after grabbing a goal 23 minutes into his debut, the then 20-year-old will go on to assist Ghana’s seventh, in a World Cup qualifying rout.

And playing in front of a vociferous crowd which screamed at the player’s every touch in a near 35-minute cameo, it seemed a country which had birthed numerous talents from Abedi Pele, to Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and others, had brought forth yet another one – Christian Atsu.

“I discovered Atsu through a friend,” former Black Stars coach, Kwasi Appiah disclosed to Joy Sports. “So what I did was to follow him, watch his games and after sometime I gave him a call, told him I will invite him to the national team.

“One thing I tell my players is not to prove anything to me, but rather Ghanaians, and he did. He proved he deserved to be in the national team,” the man who handed Atsu his debut concluded. 

He will go on to gather 19 goal contributions in 60 games as a Black Star, while contributing to almost ending a 60-year national wait for a title.

AFCON 2015 was definitely the best version of Atsu for the Black Stars, as he pushed the team – in goals and skill – to the final of that tournament. 

But no matter how promising or gifted he seemed to be, not even he could break a national curse, as the Black Stars lost yet another final. 

Despite the penalty shootout defeat to Ivory Coast, Atsu won the Player and Goal of the tournament awards, in an almost individual swoop – announcing himself to the continent.

But it seemed the Black Star’s rays were bright enough only for the African continent, as he seemingly struggled to make a footballing impression in Europe – especially outside Portugal. 

A Portuguese trial in 2010 was what kickstarted Atsu’s ‘international’ career, with a successful trial seeing him join FC Porto – and unknown to many, it was fulfillment of a promise.

“I remember the first day he had to take the first flight to FC Porto, I was at this airport [Kotoka International Airport] to see him off and when he sat on the plane, he sent me a text  message saying that ‘I am not going to return. I am going to succeed on this trial – play football at the highest level and the world will hear of the name Christian Atsu Twasam,” Abdul Hayye Yartey, owner of Cheetah FC – where Atsu played before leaving for Portugal, told Joy Sports upon arrival of the player’s remains at the airport.

His association with FC Porto will see him go on a loan spell at Rio Ave and two years after, it would seem this football gift to Ghana will not stop serving, as Atsu completed a transfer to Chelsea, a club with massive following in Ghana. 

Despite the excitement with his move, there was controlled ecstasy in the country, simply because of the knowledge of Chelsea’s unsparing loan army – and truly, the fears were legit.

Atsu spent three seasons at the club without making a competitive appearance for the Blues, going on loan to five different clubs; Vitesse, Everton, Bournemouth, Malaga and Newcastle. The Magpies will eventually permanently sign the winger from Chelsea, and that is where Atsu had arguably his best years of club football – earning himself a fan chant.

“Oh Christian Atsu, he is so wonderful, when he scores a goal, oh it’s beautiful – magical. When he runs down the wing, he’s fast as lightning.’

But his apparent tough luck with club football, will cut short his romantic relationship with the Magpies. 

“I spoke with the coach [Steve Bruce], he called me to his office one day and told me the truth. He said, ‘You’ll not be part of my squad, I want you to find a club’,” Atsu told 3Sports. 

That conversation saw the Ghanaian find himself at Al-Raed on a free transfer before moving on to Hatayspor. However, it was in Bruce’s conversation with Atsu, the true character of the player was revealed.

“It is not his fault, it’s not the coach’s fault” the former Black Stars player said while retelling the conversation.

Angel in boots

For someone who played across three continents and 10 clubs, stories surrounding his death have been more of humanism and philanthropy. 

Yes, there have been conversations of his Lesotho and AFCON 2015 exploits, but none have had lasting impressions on the Ghanaian populace more than the stories of humanism which have cropped up following his passing. 

Social media was crowded with many such messages in the ensuing hours after news of his demise – and surprisingly they have not been from only Ghanaians – with Nigerian comedian, ‘Craze clown’ leading the storytelling.

“I will describe Christian as an angel on earth” Yartey said as he reminisced to some media gathered at the airport to cover Atsu’s remains arrival. Meanwhile, there are questions as to why these stories never made it out when he was alive, and it seems there were almost oaths of secrecy.

“He will do this thing [philanthropy] to complete random people, people he doesn’t know, people he will meet off the street,” Sannie Daara, a former Ghana Football Association communications director disclosed to Joy Sports. “There are millions of stories [and] he will never tell you.

“I remember one of the days we were camping in Cape Coast, one afternoon, he saw a young girl aged around 9 or 10. She was selling plantain chips and he muttered to me, ‘what she’s carrying on her head will not make her a profit of more than 10 cedis, yet she will hawk under this hot sun for the whole day and sometimes will not get it.’

“Then he moved away from me a little and I saw him pull out some money from the bag for a girl. He spoke to her and the last words I heard was him telling the girls to ask her parents to send her to school. He will do good like this to many people and not mention it to anyone. And in fact on that afternoon in Cape Coast, he warned me not to tell any of his teammates. He asked me not to say it, but I am [now] out of respect I have for the humility he has.”

Atsu was born to a less fortunate home, and after securing that big European move many Ghanaian footballers crave for, he used it to achieve things even greater than himself and a football career.

And for someone who was described as the Ghana Messi, he certainly did not even win close to half of Lionel Messi’s trophies or individual awards but he won hearts.

“He will tell them not to cry, Christian didn’t like seeing people unhappy. He wanted to see everybody happy. He believes he’s from a poor background and always wants to see people happy, so he will say don’t cry,” Yartey said in his final words at the airport upon the arrival of the remains of a football talent who transcended the sport.

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