'Full of wisdom': Ghana lays footballer Christian Atsu to rest following earthquake tragedy

Atsu playing for Newcastle (left); Atsu's coffin draped in Ghana's flag Credit: AP

Ghana’s president was among hundreds of mourners who paid their last respects at the funeral of Christian Atsu, the football player who died in an earthquake that struck Turkey last month. President Nana Akufo-Addo, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, former President John Mahama and government ministers all attended the service at State House, the seat of the West African nation’s parliament. Atsu’s casket was draped in the red, yellow and green flag of Ghana and was carried by soldiers wearing blue dress uniforms with white belts. It was laid on a podium surrounded by white flowers.

Atsu’s widow, Marie Claire Rupio, began reading a tribute to the former Premier League player but broke down in tears and gave the speech to Atsu’s sister to finish. “In life, I loved you, in death, I do the same. It breaks my heart to lose you,” her tribute read. “You did not go alone. Part of you in me left with you. Your love is still my guide, though I cannot see you. Your smile, your love, I see in my children’s smile.” Atsu, who was 31, had three children with Ms Rupio. They also attended their father’s funeral.

Christian Atsu's wife, Marie Claire Rubio and children, listen to speeches for his funeral at the State House in Accra, Ghana. Credit: AP

Atsu’s remains were recovered from a collapsed apartment building where he lived in the Turkish city of Antakya on February 18, nearly two weeks after the devastating earthquake struck southern Turkey.

It left more than 52,000 people dead in Turkey and neighboring Syria. Atsu had joined the Antakya-based soccer club Hatayspor late last year and scored the winning goal for his new team in a league game at home on February 5, just hours before the earthquake struck in the pre-dawn hours of February 6. He played more than 60 times for Ghana’s national team and scored 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 at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, scoring two goals to help Ghana to the final, where it lost in a penalty shootout to Ivory Coast. He was named the player of the tournament at that African Cup.

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Atsu had spells at Premier League clubs Chelsea and Newcastle, and while his football career was a success, he was also remembered at his funeral for his charitable work.

The footballer was involved in numerous charities in Ghana, including one that helped former prisoners get jobs and their lives back on track after serving their sentences. He was also a major donor and regular visitor to an orphanage. “The departure of a patriot full of wisdom, humility and caring is very painful,” Ghana Sports Minister Mustapha Yussif said at the funeral.

Christiana Atsupie, twin sister of late Ghana's soccer player Christian Atsu, lays a wreath during his funeral. Credit: AP

“The painful loss of Atsu has undoubtedly created an indelible imprint on the minds and hearts of compatriots, friends, family and (the) nation. “At the peak of his career, Atsu remained himself and was not overtaken by pride and arrogance and indiscipline.” Atsu will be buried in his hometown of Ada Foah on the south coast of Ghana.