(AP) — Christian Atsu, the Ghana international forward who played for Premier League clubs Chelsea and Newcastle, has died in the earthquake in Turkey. He was 31.
Search teams recovered Atsu’s body in the ruins of a luxury 12-story building where he had been living 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.
Former Columbus Crew captain Jonathan Mensah played with Atsu on the Ghanaian national team and posted a heartfelt message on Twitter.
Atsu joined Turkish club Hatayspor in September and scored the winning goal for his new team in a league game at home against Kasimpaşa S.K. on Feb. 5, just hours before the earthquake struck in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 6.
Antakya, the city where Hatayspor is based, is in the southern region of Turkey hardest hit by the earthquake.
The death toll from the 7.8-magnitude quake in southeastern Turkey and northern Syria passed 43,000 on Friday.
Hatayspor said Atsu’s body was being repatriated to Ghana. “There are no words to describe our sadness,” the club tweeted.
Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo posted a photo of Atsu on his official Twitter account and wrote: “Ghana football has lost one of its finest personnel and ambassadors, one who will be difficult to replace. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Former Ghana captain and teammate Asamoah Gyan tweeted “RIP Brother.”
A day after the earthquake there were reports that Atsu had been rescued but Hatayspor, after initially announcing that it had received information that Atsu was alive and on his way to the hospital, said later that the reports of a successful rescue were, heartbreakingly, mistaken and the player was still missing. It had also said the club’s sporting director, Taner Savut, was still missing. Savut has not yet been found.
The contractor of the 12-story Ronesans Rezidans building — where Atsu and Savut lived — was detained at Istanbul Airport a week ago, apparently trying to leave the country.
Atsu’s agent, Nana Sechere, traveled to Turkey with members of Atsu’s family in an attempt to find him, holding onto hopes that he might be alive amid the wreckage. Sechere had urged authorities and Hatayspor officials to step up their efforts in the search for Atsu and Savut.
In a statement Tuesday, Sechere said rescuers had been able to pinpoint Atsu’s exact room location in his collapsed apartment building over a week after the devastating earthquake but the only thing they recovered were two pairs of his shoes.
Sechere confirmed Saturday that Atsu’s body was found. He posted a message on Twitter: “My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones.”
Atsu played more than 60 times for Ghana 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.
Atsu was signed by Chelsea in 2013 but his time there was limited to appearances in exhibition games 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 Saturday it was “profoundly 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, the family, loved ones and the football community.”
Atsu joined Hatayspor last year after a short spell playing 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 home country 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 jail and Atsu was its single biggest donor, Kwarteng said. Atsu had also started building an orphanage in Ghana and was helping to fund a new breast cancer screening center, Kwarteng said.