Untold story of player’s difficult journey to Europe
Spotting a talent is one thing and getting the best out of the athlete is another
Christian Atsu’s story was an exceptional one.
At age 16, Gomoa Fetteh Feyenoord Academy demanded a whopping GH¢25,000 from Cheetah FC for the services of the player who had been scouted by a FIFA certified agency, Romp Project.
Atsu’s talent was so glaring and his future very promising that Fetteh Feyenoord, where he was first discovered and groomed as a teenager, were not willing to let him go on the cheap, though the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Cheetah FC, Abdul Haye Yartey, had secured a trial opportunity at Sporting Lisbon for the precocious youngster at the time.
The Cheetah FC Founder, who played a significant role in the player’s career development and maintained a close relationship with his protégé until his death, narrates how the youngster’s career got off and how he became the shining light among his peers.
“It all started in 2008 when I was contacted by my partner, Graham Heydorn, to scout for players for his Romp Project during their visit to Ghana for the African Cup of Nations,” Mr Yartey told the Daily Graphic in an interview.
“I had my selected players, so I called Sam Arday [now deceased, then Technical Director of Feyenoord] to allow us to play against his Feyenoord side and he agreed to the request. So, we honoured the match, and Atsu, together with three players from my team, were scouted by the Romp Project.
“That was where the Atsu story started from, because it turned out to be a successful decision, as we came out with one of the best players on the continent.”
Failed move to Sporting Lisbon
Atsu, Alhassan Wakaso, Aaron Amoah and Evans Ofosu Antwi turned out as the players scouted for the Romp Project, in the presence of Paola Cardoso, then Chief Scout at Portuguese giants, Sporting Lisbon.
Impressed with the talents on display, Cardoso facilitated a trial for the players at his club, but Feyenoord refused to release their most prized asset to travel to Portugal.
According to Mr Haye, Feyenoord’s refusal to allow Atsu to travel turned somewhat chaotic, because the young footballer’s family objected to his club’s rejection of a trial.
Seen as a lifetime opportunity for the youngster, Atsu’s family attempted to wrest him from Feyenoord to clear the way for the trial at Sporting Lisbon.
“I was home one day when Isaac Twasam, a senior brother to Atsu, came to me wanting to sign him from Feyenoord so he could an travel to Portugal for the trial, but it became very difficult.
“Feyenoord were holding out for GH¢25,000 as the price tag for the youngster, but it was too expensive at the time because we were buying players for GH¢700 then,” Yartey said.
Unfortunately, Atsu failed to travel to Portugal for the trials, with only Alhassan Wakaso making the trip because Aaron Amoah and Evans Ofosu Antwi were called into the national under-17 team (Black Starlets) at the time.
Signing with Cheetah FC
The whole story changed when Mr Yartey received a call from Sam Arday to come for a discussion to sign Atsu the turning point in his football career.
“A year and a half later, Feyenoord called for another meeting to renegotiate the signing of Atsu, because the player’s contract was about expiring in three months’ time, as the Fetteh side were unwilling to extend it.
“So, we finally agreed to pay GH¢3,000 for his signature, but Feyenoord insisted on a 40 per cent onward transfer, so he finally joined Cheetah FC,” Mr Yartey narrated further.
Mr Yartey said he contacted Graham Heydorn of Romp Project to inform him of the acquisition of Atsu by Cheetah FC and immediately, the European scout facilitated a trial for the youngster at Portuguese giants, FC Porto.
Breakthrough move to FC Porto
Atsu’s first deal was a six-month loan which was extended by a year for which Cheetah FC received €145,000 from FC Porto, with Feyenoord pocketing €58,000 as their share of his onward transfer as captured in the contract with Kasoa-based Cheetah FC.
“I remember what we went through to get his passport and visa for him to travel, and at the end of the day it was worth it.
“It was very difficult for him [Atsu] to break into the first team immediately, because he was very young, but he impressed and finally got the breakthrough he deserved.”
Atsu went on to play for English sides Chelsea, Everton, Bournemouth and Newcastle United, in addition to loan spells at Spanish club Malaga and Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem.
After leaving Newcastle in 2021, he moved to Saudi Arabian side Al Raed, for a year, before joining Turkish club Hatayspor until his untimely death in the earthquake that hit Turkiye last month.
Atsu played numerous roles in the lives of many, but was mainly known for his philanthropic work with the Crime Check Foundation and Arms Around the Child.
He was lauded by many for touching lives with his humanitarian works, and Yartey believes he was sent on earth for a mission.
“He is someone that likes to help people without making it public and that was how generous he was.
“There were times he did things beyond our imagination, but that was nature, and I will forever miss him,” Mr Yartey said, as he detailed the soft side a football icon famed for his talent and amazing display of philanthropy, without seeking publicity for those noble acts.