Atsu’s kind spirit his lasting legacy
Christian Atsu Twasam may not have been the finest player of his generation, but the outpouring of emotions and tributes being paid to the late player since his tragic death suggest that for top sports stars, the full measure of their greatness is intricately linked to their overall impact on society beyond their exploits on the field.
Just as football star Shamo Quaye or legendary goalkeeper Robert Mensah, both of whom died under tragic circumstances and at the peak of their careers, the manner in which Atsu’s life was cut short was very heart wrenching. In all cases, the country was thrown into a state of mourning over the loss of outstanding stars whose influence on the game was very significant.
Atsu’s case looks different. Many across the world fondly remember him in the Black Stars jersey or Chelsea, Everton, Vitesse Arnhem, Bournemouth, Malaga or Newcastle United strips navigating past defenders with ease, using his quick footwork and close control to either create or score goals. And even in their grief, the football community in Turkey and Hatayspor faithful will remember the 31-year-old Ghanaians for his last action heroics as he scored a beautiful goal that eased his club’s relegation woes hours before he died in the devastating earthquake that has claimed over 47,000 lives in parts of Turkey and Syria.
Of his many heroics in the national jersey, none tops his performance at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations where his exploits earned him the Player of the Tournament prize, having scored a majestic goal against Equatorial Guinea– a strike voted as the Goal of the Tournament.
Legacy beyond pitch
For a talented youngster who scored on his international debut against Lesotho nine years ago, and subsequently made 65 appearances for Ghana, it would have only been natural that eulogies for the late star in Ghana would have mainly been centred around his nine international goals, four AFCON campaigns in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019, as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup exploits. Rather, he is being celebrated more for being a fine ambassador for the sport and his selflessness to humanity.
Not one of today’s superstars on an ego flight, or spoiled by the trappings of fame and fortune, or living in the fast lane. This son of a fisher epitomised humility, perhaps shaped by his own humble beginnings at Dorgobon, a community at Ada Foah in the Greater Accra Region, his tough football journey to Europe, as well as a resolve to live his Christian values.
At his prime, he was a delight to watch in the national team. Coach Kwasi Appiah, who handed the player his international debut in 2012, as well as his teammates speak highly of Atsu as a great asset for qualities such as his sense of creativity, work ethic, sharp shooting technique which allowed him to score goals from a variety of angles and distances, as well as being an excellent crosser of the ball. Not many players are gifted with all these attributes, so football is poorer for his untimely death.
It is not uncommon for people to say good things about people when they die. In fact, society frowns on speaking ill about the dead. However, the tributes pouring for Atsu speak of a good-mannered, kind-hearted person who was driven by compassion and used his star power to touch the lives of many people in unimaginable ways.
Rather sadly, it was only in his death that we got to really appreciate his real impact on society, the benevolence he showed to all manner of persons, the charitable causes he supported and also being just a jolly good fellow.
Perhaps, his philanthropic work will remain his best legacy, one that will live on through the many hundreds of lives he touched over the years.
An ambassador for global children’s charity Arms Around the Child (AATC) since 2016, Atsu was the main benefactor of a new school that is nearing completion at Senya Beraku and visited the children and the project site on several occasions. He had planned to inaugurate the building in June at the end of the European football season.
A Newcastle United supporters' group have set up a fundraiser to finish the school-building project started by their former player. Talk of Tyneside, formerly Toon for Change, aims to raise cash for a school in Ghana.
When his mortal remains were returned to Ghana, many people from all walks of life who thronged the Kotoka International Airport could not hold back tears. Perhaps, it was a personal loss of a benefactor and an uncertain future for them.
An area where Atsu’s charitable undertaking made great impact was his support for the Crime Check Foundation, an NGO in Ghana in crime-prevention advocacy and the integration of ex-convicts. In the last five years, he worked with the organisation by paying fines to secure the release from prison of people incarcerated for petty crimes, and helping in their reintegration into society and get back on their feet.
The founder of the Crime Check Foundation, Ibrahim Kwarteng, told the Daily Graphic that it was Atsu who first reached out to his NGO and assisted it to secure the release of 163 petty offenders and also get 46 of them reintegrated in society.
“Among these petty offenders who were release, he supported them with capital to enable them start trading. Some of these guys are now into hawking around Abeka La Paz and other areas.
“He also partnered us to provide educational support for children, as well as helped in the release of medical prisoners (people ‘imprisoned’ at healthcare facilities for their inability to pay for their bills),” Mr Kwarteng narrated.
Until his death early this month, the football icon was championing the passing of Non-Custodial Sentencing Law in Ghana to help decongest Ghana’s prisons and also to find alternative punitive measures for petty crimes.
For Mr Kwarteng, Atsu’s death not only robs them of a strong financier but also a strong and high-profile advocate for Non-Custodial Sentencing Law in Ghana. He is hoping to get other philanthropists to support their cause, including the passage of the law by Parliament and he proposes the law, when passed, must be named after the footballer as a tribute to his effort to ensure reforms in our prisons.
What was very heart-warming was that for many of his charity works, Atsu supported the needy quietly and without coverage in the media to personal glory. It speaks so much of a supremely gifted star who placed more value on Christian attributes of being one another’s keeper, than just living for himself and his nuclear family.
A great footballer by all accounts, glowing tributes are being scripted in honour of the late footballer, but for Atsu, his epitaph will best read: He delivered on an off the field, lived a life of kindness, grace and compassion.