Grieving Ghanaians gathered outside the country’s parliament building in Accra on Friday for the state funeral of national football team winger Christian Atsu, who died during the devastating earthquake in southern Turkey last month.
Atsu, 31, was caught up in a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria on February 6, killing more than 54,000 people in both countries. He had gone missing following the collapse of an apartment building in Hatay.
There were initial reports the player had been pulled alive a day after the quake, but these turned out to be false and his body was later found under the rubble and flown back to Ghana.
Mourners silently filed past Atsu’s coffin, which arrived draped in Ghana’s national flag. Family, fans and beneficiaries of his charitable donations remembered him as a philanthropist.
“He’s even more than a football player,” said Fedna Asare, a family friend. “His name will forever be in our hearts because he has helped a lot of people.”
Atsu, 31, spent four seasons at Chelsea before a permanent transfer to Newcastle in 2017. He signed in September for Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor, based in Hatay, near the epicentre of the earthquake.
He won the last of his 60 Ghana national caps in September 2019.
Atsu had been scheduled to fly out of southern Turkey hours before the quake but the Ghanaian had opted to stay with the club after scoring the winning goal in a February 5 Super Lig match. It was the last of his 33 career goals for Hatayspor.
Atsu’s older brother and twin sister were present at the site when his body was recovered, Ghana’s foreign ministry said.
A tribute was held for Atsu on February 18, attended by his widow Marie-Claire Rupio and their three children, at St James’ Park before Newcastle’s Premier League match against Liverpool.
“There are no words to describe our sadness,” tweeted his Turkish top-flight club in homage to him.
“We will not forget you, Atsu. Peace be upon you, beautiful person.”
He previously played for his national team, the Black Stars.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said, “Football has lost one of its finest ambassadors, one who will be difficult to replace.”