Christian Atsu’s journey to becoming a Premier League star was different to most.
Atsu could have followed in his late fathers’ footsteps earning a living from fishing and farming, but he was determined to take a different path in life. Atsu’s journey began in Ada Foah, a town on the Southeast coast of Ghana where the Volta River meets the Atlantic Ocean; he had to fight hard to reach the bright lights of professional football.
Atsu would sleep on a bed made up of mud. It was very uncomfortable. His determination to make it as a professional football player shines through, even today. The midfielder never forgets where he came from, though it is strange for him to look back on his previous sleeping arrangements. Atsu is involved in a lot of charity work back in Ghana where he returns each summer.
Atsu’s childhood was filled with poverty and his family were unable to learn the cause of his fathers’ death due to the lack of medical attention at the time. The midfielder’s football journey began on the streets of Ada Foah playing on pitches full of stone, before Feyenoord’s African academy scouts spotted his talent. Atsu made the incredibly tough decision to leave his family, it would be the final time he would see his father, Immanuel – who fell ill and passed away during Atsu’s first few months with the academy.
After working hard to prove himself in the academy, it eventually paid off when Portugese giants Porto came calling. Atsu’s trial for Porto was not a normal one – he had just three days to prove that he had what it takes to be a success at the club. Fortunately for Atsu he impressed during the trial earning himself a 6 month contract with the club. During his time with Porto he was dubbed as the “African Messi” after some dazzling displays; those performances saw his initial 6 month contract gradually turn into a 3 year deal.
Atsu concentrated on his future, having to adapt to new food, language and a new way of life. At the relatively young age of 18, Atsu already had a mature head on his shoulders deciding to serve Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. The Newcastle midfielder worked incredibly hard in order to send money back to his family and friends. Money is a big thing in football, where many see players’ wages being far too high, Atsu’s main focus was to become a better player and to help support his family.
Atsu dreamed of playing in the Premier League, he would watch Michael Essien play for Chelsea even before he made the big move to the Feyenoord African academy. Essien is a huge name in Ghana and a player Atsu looked up to. The former Porto midfielder has dealt with masses of pressure throughout his life, the three day trial at Porto was intense not knowing whether his dream would become a reality. That pressure has helped him massively when playing in the Premier League for Newcastle.
Atsu’s performances for Porto earned him a move he had craved throughout his childhood – A move to the Premier League with Chelsea. A move that would not live up to his expectations, Atsu was immediately loaned out to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem for the remainder of the 2013/14 campaign – this would be a recurring theme for Atsu throughout his time at Stamford Bridge. While on loan in the Netherlands the pacey winger scored 5 goals in 30 appearances for the club.
Loan moves to Everton, Bournemouth and Malaga followed before the Ghanaian finally made his way to Championship side Newcastle in 2016. His move to Tyneside was on an initial loan with an option for the Newcastle to purchase the winger permanently. During Newcastle’s Championship-winning campaign Atsu scored 5 times and assisted a further 3 for his teammates. Newcastle took the option to buy Atsu in May 2017 signing a 4 year deal worth £6.2 million.
Atsu is settled on Tyneside and despite the departure of Rafael Benitez who he considered to be a father-like figure to him, Atsu has impressed new manager Steve Bruce so far this season. The former Chelsea player has provided 2 assists so far this season, one of which came during Newcastle’s first win of the season away to Tottenham.
Atsu’s journey has been tougher than most, with his contract entering its final two years the Ghanaian’s determination will undoubtedly shine through in order to earn a contract extension. It is fair to say Atsu’s journey from the streets of Ada Foah to the green grass of St James’ Park has been nothing short of inspirational.