Christian Atsu didn’t have a lucky start in life, but with talent and perseverance, he was able to fulfill his dream of playing professional football and, with it, a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
The football world has been in mourning since Christian Atsu was confirmed dead after being trapped in the rubble following the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey in February.
At 31, the former Ghana international was nearly at the twilight of his career and his demise comes as a painful loss because he had a lot to offer, both on and off the pitch.
Born in Ada Foah in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, Atsu became a shining light to his family and community and made it his duty to impact the lives of others.
One of 10 children born by his parents and the son of a fisherman, Atsu’s career and life were a testament to what one can achieve with the right mix of determination, luck and opportunity.
Not only was he a devoted Christian, but he also made it his mission to care for the less privileged by using his funds to make their lives better.
In a 2019 interview with the Guardian, Atsu said: “My faith is the most important thing in my life. I know I’m one of the lucky people God has blessed.
“I’m very lucky and privileged to be in this position. I had nothing and now I’ve got too much so I have to give something back.”
This overly dutiful thinking – of owing his society and of being lucky to be privileged – guided his every step when he had his breakthrough and he never lost himself to fame and money.
The model footballer
Christian Atsu’s football career started on the dusty pitches in Accra before he was snapped up by the Feyenoord Soccer Academy in Gomoa Fetteh.
He would eventually end up at Cheetah FC, where he was given the platform to develop his game to the next level and, in 2011, he secured his first European trial at FC Porto.
Then just a teenager, Atsu impressed the Portuguese outfit and was handed a permanent contract, although he only trained with Porto’s youth team.
A loan move to Rio Ave would follow, as he sought more game time. In 27 matches for Rio Ave, the winger scored six goals and returned to Porto as a more mature footballer.
Porto boss Andre Villas-Boas integrated him into the first team during the 2012/13 campaign, with Atsu starting nine matches as the club won the league – his first major trophy.
That impressive season with the Portuguese giants earned Atsu a dream move to Chelsea. Unfortunately for him, though, he would spend the next four years with the Blues without making a single first-team appearance.
In that time, he was farmed out on loan to Vitesse, Everton, Bournemouth, Malaga and Newcastle United, before permanently joining the latter in 2017.
Atsu would spend five years at St. James’ Park, helping the Magpies to gain promotion to the Premier League and playing over 50 matches in the white and black jersey.
He parted ways with Newcastle in the summer of 2021 following the expiration of his contract and joined Saudi Arabia side Al Raed on a free transfer that same summer.
After just a year in the Middle East, the Ghanaian winger moved to Turkey to join Hatayspor, where he tragically died in the earthquake just a day after scoring his first goal for the club.
Atsu’s impact wasn’t just limited to the football pitch. Off it, he also took steps to make life better for the less privileged.
He was always willing to give and he paid the fees of many, including the popular Nigerian comedian Craze Clown.
He was also an ambassador for many children’s charity foundations. In Ghana, he financed the Becky’s Foundation, which caters for 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.
Furthermore, he played a huge role in the non-custodial sentencing bill and teamed up with the Crime Check Foundation to pay the fines of petty criminals.
These included persons who were languishing in prison over petty theft, and also helped to reintegrate the freed inmates into society. The winger even went as far as providing money for some of them to start businesses.
In a 2018 interview, Atsu tried to explain the motive behind his philanthropic works: “I lived in an uncompleted building. Every time I go back to Ghana, I see the building I lived in. It’s still uncompleted.
“I say to my friends ‘this was me, this is where I came from’. It’s hard in Africa. You cannot imagine what it is like to see the kids with no money, no house, with nowhere to go.”
“We have to build a better world. As a grown-up guy like me, I can suffer. That’s fine. But not the kids. Not when it’s not their fault.”
Atsu’s football career lasted over a decade and although he was blighted by injuries at his peak, he still had some achievements to his name.
At Porto, he won the Portuguese league title as well as the Portuguese Super Cup. He was also voted as the club’s young player of the year in 2011.
He also made his mark during his loan spell with Vitesse, where he was voted the club’s player of the year in 2014. With Newcastle United, too, he won the EFL Championship in their promotion season.
For Ghana, Atsu’s best performances came during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), where he helped the Black Stars to finish as runners-up to the Ivory Coast.
Atsu emerged as the player of the tournament, with his long-range strike against Guinea also voted as the goal of the tournament.