One word which towers above all else in describing Christian Atsu’s situation at AFC Bournemouth is: Strange! All who care for – even those with the remotest connection to – Ghana football are always left with the unpleasant task of doing mental gymnastics: writhes, hops, spins and vaults; to wrap their heads around the current goings-on at the newly promoted premier league side.
When the team news was announced for their third week game against West Ham, the AFCON MVP’s name was conspicuously missing from coach Eddie Howe’s list and a quite a number of Ghanaian football fanatics (myself included rather unblushingly) jumped to Christian’s defense – giving excuses germane enough to buy him some time and somewhat attempt offering reasonable explanations for the apparent snub; from a nonexistent injury, to needing time to settle in his new club; and being part of a bigger, brighter picture at the vitality stadium… some of us heaved enough sighs and made enough faces to leave others with the slightest dissent in no doubt that we were doing so against our better judgements and perhaps, we were blinded by some vague promise of utopia and love stemming from affinity.
Game day ten has come and gone, and it appears the feud between the Chelsea loanee and the AFC Bournemouth team sheet lingers and a resolution to the beef would have to take some time and a bit of getting used to. Now in his third loan spell since signing for the English Premiership champions in the summer of 2013, this turn of events at the south coast club is one that has left Christian and his fans alike twitching a little, squirming a little and grumbling a lot. Chances of him donning that revered Blue Chelsea FC jersey is slowly and painfully slipping through his fingers and Christian is the first to acknowledge that fact.
He told BBC Sport: “It’s my dream to play for Chelsea. But right now I have to focus on Bournemouth.
“If I don’t play here there is no way I will get a chance at Chelsea.
“Of course I’m not happy I’m not playing in the Premier League because I came here to play.
“Going out on loan is very difficult, you have to keep moving and taking your family with you and that is not easy. But that is the life, and you have to accept it.”
First impressions, they say, count… and if that is anything to go by, Christian Atsu’s was near impeccable when he debuted for the Black Stars in a World Cup qualifying game against Lesotho in Kumasi. His impressive goal and an assist in the 7-0 romping excited some reaction from the Ghanaian populace. That, coupled with the fact that he had directly contributed to 10 goals (6 goals, 4 assists) in his 31 appearances for Rio Ave in Portugal earned him a call back to FC Porto that summer.
Fancy trickery and step-overs are not in truth his style. Nor is breaching through defenses with utter brute force his thing but one thing he does in good health: drive forward at pace or use his close control to leave defenders for dead. He was explosive and in games, coaches often bet on him to be the docking station for his teammates when they were under immense pressure by providing width and an outlet for the rest of the team with his pace. He was indeed a counter attacking maven.
Nobody was going to stick a pin in the balloon; certainly not Sulley Ali Muntari who insisted [sic] “Christian was the Ghanaian Messi” after the maverick midfielder trained with his new international teammate before a world cup qualifier in Kumasi. Paying such glowing tributes about teammates isn’t really something Muntari often does so his comments came as a bit of a surprise and it was in itself testimony to its far-reaching implications. The 20 year old had earned all of his praises and many hoped in the not-too-distant future, his name could be mentioned together with the likes of Abedi Pele, Mohammed Polo, Abdul Karim Zito etc… in the same football sentence without a recourse to further explanations or render an unqualified apology to anyone
So far, the narrative isn’t going as many had hoped; far off the carrier trajectory plotted for him. He was an exciting prospect but now a damp squib (I’m not this harsh usually, a friend suggested the word)
There are two deeper questions out of this. The first is how it got to this, to a player who now looks so laboured and limp; not made a single appearance for a newly promoted side in the Barclays Premier league – not even a place on the bench, 10 games into the season. How, whilst many grudgingly forgave him for making just one start the entire season at Everton, can’t even push for a substitute appearance for AFC Bournemouth; reduced to plugging in the holes in competitions the regular first team players are deemed way too quality and experienced to have their hands soiled with?
Secondly, why does he keep getting shoehorned into the Black Stars team when he’s played a grand-total of 15 games for his club in two seasons – including cup competitions and late substitute appearances? Could it be the curious case that he’s simply not putting his shoulder to the plough at his club in the knowledge that, whatever happens, a spot in the National team was well within his means?
Strange though it may seem but talent appear the least of Christian’s problems. He became the cynosure of all eyes when he completed a transfer from FC Porto to Chelsea for a fee of about £3.5m in the summer of 2013. He was immediately shipped to Vitesse Arnheim in the Eredivise where his brilliant displays earned him the Fans’ player of the Season award (that was more like it Christian) and a move back to England imminent. It appears Atsu picked his own pocket with a move to Everton and not even superb performances for the Black Stars over the stretch have been able to insulate him from the sharp criticisms which keep pouring in. A move to a team with far less ‘pressure’ and expectation was the only move which wouldn’t appear to betray the functionality of his gray matter up there. So when AFC Bournemouth came calling, a collective halleluia was heard in many Ghanaian homes.
He seems to be one of Coach Avram Grant’s preferred Cavalry but what is yet to be seen is how long Ghanaians will continue to put up with his schlock period in England. However else we may venture into today’s tomorrows, it is not – I can assure you – on the plastic wings of cameos and a place in the stands. Good, assured displays week-in, week-out is the way to go. C’mon Christian Soldier!… strap up and fight…after all, #GodIsTheReason.
we are watching!