EARNED IT!: Chrissy Atsu Deserves Newcastle United Stay

When English giants Chelsea, around the beginning of the current season, sent Christian Atsu on the Ghanaian’s fourth loan spell since his move to London from Oporto, few held any hopes for a young man who had increasingly drifted towards the periphery of the picture envisaged by the men who plotted his arrival at Stamford Bridge.

Only the first of the temporary transfers Atsu had been farmed out on — to Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem, where he was voted by fans as that club’s best player for the 2013/14 season — brought real success. The experiences that followed, at English Premier League sides Everton and Bournemouth, yielded very little due to a dire lack of opportunities and fitness issues respectively. The next adventure, at Spain’s Malaga, wasn’t so bad — but it wasn’t so good either for a man who is yet to start a competitive game for his parent club.

The stint at St James’ Park thus seemed, at worst, one loan move too many; at best, it represented Atsu’s entry into last chance saloon, with respect to his prospects as a future Chelsea star. Thankfully, it’s a chance he clutched with little hesitance.

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Opportunities for Atsu were sparse at the beginning, but his undoubted brilliance filtered through, easing him gradually into the plans of Rafael Benitez, the Magpies’ manager, as well as the hearts of the club’s faithful. Before long — especially in the latter half of the season — Atsu started to earn more minutes and greater trust, contributing enough to merit all that has come his way of late. On Monday night, when his countrymen were reliving Lionel Messi’s Clasico moment of genius and Wayne Rooney’s return to goalscoring on Sports Station and/or Highlights on Ghanaian television, Atsu played perhaps his biggest role yet in a Newcastle shirt. Against Preston North End in Newcastle’s penultimate home game of the season, Benitez’s charges let slip an early lead, only for Atsu to restore it with a fine finish shortly before recess. It was an advantage the Toon Army never relinquished, not even after Atsu left the pitch to some applause with a third of an hour to go. By the time the winger had signed off, Newcastle had wrapped up a 4-1 victory, sealing a return to the English top-flight at the first time of asking, just days after Championship leaders Brighton & Hove Albion had secured their own ticket.

Atsu may yet have a part to play in what remains of Newcastle’s campaign, with rotation-obsessed Benitez likely to grant his fringe players — a category Atsu, despite his recent rise to considerable prominence, hasn’t entirely emerged from – game-time, and the 25-year-old would seek to add to his four-goal, three-assist haul before the climax. And then?

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Well, and then Newcastle could exercise the option they have to make permanent Atsu’s stay – at least for the player’s sake. A return to Chelsea, given the well-oiled juggernaut Antonio Conte has constructed that’s humming along just fine, won’t be in Atsu’s best interests. Remaining at Newcastle would, though, and Chelsea should be willing to part with the lad they apparently don’t regard too highly anyway for a reasonably modest fee.

Atsu has proved himself enough in 30 appearances (nearly half of them starts) to stake a claim for extended life on Tyneside beyond the current season, even if Newcastle decide to bring in reinforcements to ensure a better experience in the Premier League than their last. He’s found a home with the Geordies, fans who adore him already, and a manager whose unwavering belief in meritocracy would give him a fair crack at matching the hype that brought him to England four years ago.

Kwesi Appiah Back To Reinvent The Wheel

He may not have been as hugely popular and as well-remembered by posterity as his illustrious predecessor, but Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar lays claim to an achievement neither his uncle Julius nor all of the other Caesars can boast of. It’s a feat immortalized in the famous words: “I found Rome brick; I left it marble.”

It’s a statement newly re-appointed Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah would wish to echo in the future when his latest stint at the helm of the Black Stars ends. But for a truly terrible experience at the 2014 Fifa World Cup that really was no fault of his, Appiah — the only Ghanaian to have steered the senior national team to an appearance at the Mundial — would have had that luxury when his first tenure ended barely three years ago. Since then, during the stint of one-time Chelsea boss Avram Grant, Ghana have been bowed by two failed Nations Cup campaigns — the first heart-breaking, the second simply annoying — while, between those disappointments, the bid to qualify for a fourth consecutive World Cup is already two games-dead, with very little life remaining in it.

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The squad Grant bequeathed to his successor/predecessor is practically same as the one he inherited, many believe, but — in the opinion of this writer — the Israeli actually left Ghana even weaker than he found it. Quite a few established members of the setup have no right retaining their entrenched positions anymore, and others may need some competition to provide that huge kick up the backside to get them playing like worthy Black Stars again. In sum, Ghana needs rebuilding, and though Appiah may not have to do it all from scratch, he certainly has much work on his hands.

He starts on May 1, aided by a backroom staff that could likely be as good as new in composition. In truth, the task handed him might appear rather daunting: reaching Russia 2018 would surely be herculean, even improbable at this point, and 2019 — given how much work has to be done on a Ghanaian team that’s about entering a transition phase — is perhaps a bit too soon for the country to think of ending its long wait for a fifth Nations Cup crown.

But the real objective of Appiah’s appointment — never mind that the Ghana Football Association probably didn’t include that in the memo, at least not in so many words — is to build a solid squad that could last Ghanaians a lifetime and bring their wildest dreams to fruition, and that’s hardly impossible.

If Appiah could achieve that with a Ghana side which — at a lowly eighth in the African rankings of national sides — is a bit more brittle than bricks at the moment, he could well boast as Augustus did.

The way, The truth, The life

 

In a special documentary, a major television network investigated the beginnings of Christianity and the influence of the apostle Paul in spreading the message of Christ. The narrator noted his fascination with the historical figure, commenting that if not for the voice of Paul, it is “unlikely that the movement Jesus founded would have survived beyond the first century.” Yet of the resurrection of Christ he also noted, “Something must have happened, otherwise it’s hard to explain how Jesus’s story endured for so long.”

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Why has the story of Christ endured? Has it survived through the centuries because of effective speakers in antiquity? Has it endured, as Sigmund Freud argued, because it is a story that fulfills wishes, or as Friedrich Nietzsche attested, because it masks and medicates our despairing fate? Has the story of Christ endured because something really happened after Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross or was it only the clever marketing of ardent followers?

We live in an age where religion is examined with the goal of finding a religion, or a combination of religions, that best suits our lives and lifestyles. We are intrigued by characters in history like Jesus and Paul, Buddha and Gandhi. We look at their lives and rightly determine their influence in history—the radical life and message of Christ, the fervor with which Paul spread the story of Christianity, the passion of Buddha, the social awareness of Gandhi. But far too often, our fascination stops there, comfortably and confidently keeping the events of history at a distance or mingling them all together as one and the same.

C.S. Lewis wrote often of “the great cataract of nonsense” that blinds us to knowledge of earlier times and keeps us content with history in pieces. He was talking about the common tendency to treat the voices of history with a certain level of incredulity and inferiority—even if with a pleasant curiosity all the same. Elsewhere, he called it chronological snobbery, a tendency to concern oneself primarily with present sources while dissecting history as we please. Yet to do so, warned Lewis, is to walk unaware of the cataracts through which we see the world today. Far better is the mind that truly considers the past, allowing its lessons to interact with the army of voices that battle for our allegiance. For a person who has lived thoroughly in many eras is far less likely to be deceived by the errors of his or her own age.

We might be wary, then, among other things, of assuming the earliest followers of Christ thought resurrection a reasonable phenomenon or miracles a natural occurrence. They didn’t. Investigating the life of Paul, we might ask why a once fearful persecutor of Christ’s followers was suddenly willing to die for the story he carried around the world, testifying to this very event that split history. Investigating the enduring story of Christ, we might ask why the once timid and frightened disciples were abruptly transformed into bold witnesses. What happened that led countless Jews and many others to dramatically change directions in life and in lifestyle? That something incredible happened is not a difficult conclusion at which to arrive. It takes far greater faith to conclude otherwise.

A friend of mine is fond of saying that truth is something you can hang your hat on. Even as we struggle to see it today, her words communicate a reality Jesus’s disciples knew well. The resurrection was shocking in its real-ness; it was an event they found dependable and enduring. It was not for them like the latest scandal that grabs our curiosity and passes with the next big thing. It is solid and it is real. The disciples and the apostle Paul were transformed by seeing Jesus alive again—a phenomenon that would be just as unthinkable to ancient minds as it would be for us today. In fact, even the most hesitant among them, and the most unlikely of followers, found the resurrected Christ an irrefutable reality. Comfort was irrelevant, it went far beyond curiosity, and personal preference was not a consideration. They could not deny who stood in front of them. Jesus was alive. And they went to their deaths talking about it.

It seems to me that the story of Christ has endured for innumerable reasons: because in the fullness of time God indeed sent his Son; because knowingly Jesus walked to the Cross and into the hands of those who didn’t know what they were doing; because something really happened after his body was laid in the tomb; and because with great power and with God’s Spirit, the apostles continued to testify of the events they saw. What if the story of Christ remains today simply because it is true?