It may not look like it, but there is more to come from Ghana's Christian Atsu
It’s not exactly a normal thing, not to have a Ghanaian representing the West African nation at the top level of global football. Not just repping but also making the buzz. We have had several Ghanaians over the years who came, saw and conquered the revered top five European leagues. Asamoah Gyan is one such name, so is Kevin Prince Boateng and ofcourse the legend, Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew. The father to the two Ayew brothers who currently play for Crystal Palace and Fenerbahce. Abedi was actually nicknamed Pele because he was believed to be just as good as the Brazilian Pele. Currently there are still quite a number of Ghanaians doing great exploits in the European Leagues such as Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey, the ever-so reliable central defensive midfielder if I may add. However, we are used to Ghanaians leading the frontlines, scoring goals and taking on defenders which we have not really seen for a while now. Newcastle’s Christian Atsu has the abilities but we have not been seeing it from him as of late. Here is what’s up.
In my humble opinion, Atsu is simply a player lacking the confidence to make an impact at a level such as the English Premier League.
After delivering the Best Player of the tournament performance at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, even winning the goal of the tournament in the same campaign for his cracker against Guinea, Atsu looked like the real deal. His pace, high technical ability, trickery and eye for goal had resemblance of the infant careers of greats such as Eto’o and Seydou Keita. This was the period when he was still in Chelsea’s books after they had hijacked him from Porto for a reported £3.5 million in a five-year contract. His fate quickly became like that of fellow Ghanaian Baba Rahman, a Chelsea player still yet to really feature for the Blues but shipped on loans from time to time. For close to five years after signing for the London Club in 2013, Atsu was loaned to several clubs including Eredivisie outfit, Vitesse where he instantly became a hit winning the 2013/14 Vitesse Player of The Season. He then appeared for Everton, Bournemouth, Malaga and Newcastle on loan before permanently signing for Newcastle in May 2017. This was just after Atsu’s stellar campaign with Rafa Benitez’s men, winning the 2016/17 EFL Championship thus leading the Magpies back into the Premier League. Since then, Atsu’s form has been far from impressive.
Because of the position and current status of the Magpies as a not-so stable club fighting to just stay in the English top flight, Rafa Benitez has had to resort to “negative football”, more often than not. The likes of Christian Atsu have been defending in matches more than they have been attacking, whereas the latter actually happens to be his stronger attribute. As you can imagine, such tactics tend to rob players of confidence, to even attempt to take on players and go all out in attack the few times they get the ball and Christian Atsu has not been spared of such. In addition, there is a direct correlation between a developing player and the influences around that player to give support and set an example. For instance, Alex Iwobi has earned a reputation of nutmegging opponents and the nickname, “Nigerian Messi” in the process because of his red hot form this season. He was a player low on confidence in the 2017/18 campaign, operating at the least favored end of the spectrum but now, with his confidence back and the likes of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan around him, there is no telling how far he can go. On the other hand, Atsu never had any of such opportunities in the Championship and neither did Chelsea grant him such an opportunity and that’s how he started losing his confidence and needing even more mentoring from the greats.
With Newcastle struggling and in threat of relegation, you can only hope that something changes for the 26-year-old who still has got time in his career to turn his fortunes around and unleash the lethal Ghanaian in him. I am starting to think the Ivorian Jean Michel Seri who was once linked to the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea but instead opted for struggling Fulham might be at risk of a facing a similar fate but that’s a story for another day.