Ghana’s football star Christian Atsu died in the earthquake in Turkey, aged 31

Christian Atsu, Ghana’s international striker who played for Premier League clubs Chelsea and Newcastle, died in the earthquake in Turkey. He was 31.

Search teams found Atsu’s body in the rubble of a luxury 12-story building where he had lived in the city of Antakya, Hatay province, his manager said Saturday.

“Atsu’s lifeless body was found under the rubble. At the moment, his belongings are still being removed, manager Murat Uzunmehmet told private news agency DHA.

Atsu joined Turkish club Hatayspor in September and scored the winning goal for his new team in a league match at home to Kasimpaşa SK on 5 February, just hours before the earthquake struck in the early hours of 6 February.

Antakya, the city where Hatayspor is based, is in the southern part of Turkey hardest hit by the earthquake.

The death toll from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria passed 43,000 on Friday.

Search teams found Atsu’s body in the ruins of a luxury 12-story building where he had lived in the city of Antakya.

Serena Taylor via Getty Images

Hatayspor said Atsu’s body was repatriated to Ghana. “There are no words to describe our sadness,” the club tweeted.

A day after the earthquake, there were reports that Atsu had been rescued, but Hatayspor, after initially announcing that they had received information that Atsu was alive and on his way to the hospital, later said the reports of a successful rescue were, heartbreaking enough, wrong. and the player was still missing. It had also said that the club’s sporting director, Taner Savut, was still missing. Savut has not yet been found.

The contractor of the 12-storey Ronesans Rezidans building – where Atsu and Savut lived – was arrested at Istanbul airport a week ago, apparently in an attempt to leave the country.

Atsu’s agent, Nana Sechere, traveled to Turkey with members of Atsu’s family in an attempt to find him, clinging to hope that he might be alive amid the wreckage. Sechere had urged the authorities and Hatayspor officials to step up efforts in the search for Atsu and Savut.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sechere said rescuers had been able to find Atsu’s exact room location in his collapsed apartment building over a week after the devastating earthquake, but all they found were two pairs of his shoes.

Sechere confirmed on Saturday that Atsu’s body had been found. He posted a message on Twitter: “My deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”

Atsu played more than 60 times for Ghana, scoring on his debut as a 20-year-old in 2012. He was part of the Ghana squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and starred in the 2015 African Cup of Nations, scoring two goals to helping Ghana to the final, where they lost on penalties to Ivory Coast.

He was named player of the tournament at the African Cup.

Atsu was signed by Chelsea in 2013, but his time there was limited to appearances in exhibition matches and he was sent out on loan to various clubs over the next four years. The winger joined Newcastle on loan in 2016 and was part of the team that won promotion back to the Premier League in the 2016-17 season.

He signed a permanent deal with Newcastle in 2017 and spent four years there. The club said on Saturday it was “deeply saddened” by Atsu’s death.

“A talented player and a special person, he will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters,” Newcastle tweeted.

The Ghana Football Association added: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to his wife and children, family, loved ones and the football community.”

Atsu joined Hatayspor last year after a short spell in Saudi Arabia.

Ibrahim Kwarteng, a friend of Atsu’s in Ghana, told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he knew the player as someone who helped people in his West African homeland as much as he could.

Kwarteng runs an organization that helps people convicted of petty crimes get jobs and put their lives back together after being released from prison, and Atsu was the single largest donor, Kwarteng said. Atsu had also started building an orphanage in Ghana and helped fund a new breast cancer screening centre, Kwarteng said.

Associated Press writer Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana, contributed to this report.

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