The first thing I do when my eyes open in the morning is to check my phone for WhatsApp messages or scan through social media for trending issues back home. This day was no different, except I kept seeing status updates with the name Christian Atsu. It felt weird. You only see such things when something is wrong. Why is his name all over? Is everything ok? A million thoughts were running through my head with no immediate answers. Quickly, I switched to Facebook, and there it was. The Ghanaian international, who played for Turkish football club Hatayspor, had been trapped in the 7.8 earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6. It happened just a few hours after he scored a 90th-minute stunner for his club in a thrilling 1-0 win over Kasimpasa in the Turkish Super Lig on February 5. I exclaimed and prayed to God to have him rescued alive. My day was shattered after seeing footage of the destruction caused by the earthquake on major news outlets and social media.
Like many Ghanaians, I could only hope and pray, considering hundreds of victims were pulled out alive 24 hours after the disaster. 48 hours and there was news that Christian had been pulled out with some injuries. You can not imagine the joy and thanksgiving in the Ghanaian social media space. However, this was short-lived after news of mistaken identity spread that the rescued individual was not Christian. After 12 days of intense searching, anguish, and agony of uncertainty, Christian was found. Found but among the more than 50,000 people who died in the disaster. It hurt like a dagger slowly piercing through the chest. While death is inevitable for every human, I was deeply pained by how such a kindhearted person who gave hope to so many people had to endure such a painful death.
Tributes quickly began to pour in for the former Newcastle United favorite whose life on and off the pitch symbolized a leader in every word. He played for top league sides, including Chelsea, FC Porto, and New Castle United. Atsu was not only a great player but also a fantastic human, as documented by his incredible charity work back home. It was no surprise that top English Premier League games observed a minute silence for the 31-year-old whose exploits on the pitch earned him the title “Ghana Messi.” Like many Ghanaians, I never met Christian Atsu personally except through more than 60 times he played for Ghana’s senior national football team, the Black Stars, which were shown on TV. He scored on his debut as a 20-year-old in 2012, was part of the Ghana 2014 World Cup squad, and starred at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, scoring two goals to help Ghana to the final. The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations appearance was one of his most dazzling on-field performances, as he won the Player of the Tournament and Goal of the Tournament awards.
His sudden passing was a devastating blow to many who looked up to him for support. He provided home protection, education, and support for children orphaned or abused in different parts of the world, mainly in Ghana. He is known to have paid the fines of 113 prisoners and got them released through the Crime Check Foundation. He also successfully reintegrated 46 ex-convicts by supporting them financially to start their own businesses. He was known to visit teammates at the close of every league season to collect used boots for kids in Ghana who wanted to take up football as a career. Since 2016, Christian has made yearly trips to Ghana to support the British charity Arms Around the Child by sending gifts and football equipment and even building a new school for orphaned children and the local community. In one of his memorable interviews, Atsu could not fight back the tears as he talked about how homeless children in Ghana are orphaned, abused, affected by HIV/AIDS, and in danger of being trafficked or sold. His commitment to public service and philanthropy has left a lasting impact on Ghanaian society. His legacy serves as a reminder that each of us has the power to make a difference in the world and that our actions can leave a lasting impact long after we are gone.
You will be buried this weekend but we are comforted by the lessons you taught us. To be compassionate and empathetic, to lead by making others live, to work tirelessly to make a positive impact in society, to advocate for policies that improve people’s lives, and be willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve our goals. While we still tarry here, may our life in time hold value in eternity
“Damirifa due, Christian Atsu Twasam”.