After losing her husband in the Turkey earthquakes, Christian Atsu’s wife ‘hopes his name will never be forgotten.’
Rupio speaks exclusively to BBC Radio 5 Live about the former Newcastle United and Ghana footballer, who died in the earthquakes that ravaged areas of Turkey and Syria.
More than 50,000 people were killed in the earthquakes, with Atsu, 31, discovered dead under the wreckage of his home in Antakya on 18 February, over two weeks after the quakes.
At the time of his death, he and Rupio had three children: nine, six, and three.
“It’s very important to me that his name is still remembered, especially for the children, that he was known and loved by everyone,” she adds.
“I just hope his name will never be forgotten.”
Speaking to the public for the first time since his murder, Rubio recalls her and their children’s confusion about whether Atsu was safe, hearing about events on the radio, and the impact his death has had on them.
‘I was startled, it was difficult to believe,’ said Atsu, who joined for Hatayspor last September while his family stayed in Newcastle.
Rupio last talked with him on Saturday, 4 February, and because his club had a game against Kasimpasa the following day, he intended to chat with her again on Monday.
Atsu scored the game’s lone goal in injury time, and his wife texted him to congratulate him. His thank-you message would be their final interaction.
Rupio was traveling on Monday when he heard about the earthquake on the radio.
“I didn’t think it could happen in a place [where] he would be,” she explained. “As a human being, you believe that this cannot happen to you or anybody you care about.
“I was like, ‘he’s fine, he’ll call.'” But then his sister called and told me that his building had completely fallen. It was difficult for me to believe.”
Christian Atsu went from being a fisherman’s son to being a ‘one in a million’ Black Star.
In photographs: Christian Atsu, a Ghanaian footballer, was put to rest.
Subsequent news stories caused uncertainty over what happened to Atsu, who appeared 121 times for Newcastle between 2016 and 2021.
His club’s vice-president said on February 7 that he had been “removed from the wreckage with injuries.”
However, his representative Nana Sechere stated the next day that his location were not to be established.
Rupio then told BBC News that she felt her husband was still alive and that more equipment was needed to remove the rubble.
“I didn’t really read any news,” Rupio said. “I had to rely on his agent, Nana, and his sister.”
“Our children heard at school that he had been found, then came home and heard on the radio that he had not been found.” It wasn’t nice, but I told them he may be discovered because you still want to hope in a happy ending.”
Being ‘the rock’ for their kids
Christian Atsu appreciated spending time with the Becky’s Foundation’s youngsters.
Christian Atsu was referred to as ‘father’ by some of the youngsters he helped in Ghana.
Sechere was in Hatay province to oversee the hunt for Atsu and subsequently confirmed his death after phoning Rupio in the early hours of the morning.
“I couldn’t really cry because I was in such shock,” she explained. “I refused to believe [it was true].” My body seemed to have shut down.
“The kids had football the next morning, and I didn’t want to take that away from them.” I had to sit them down and explain it to them after that.
“It isn’t easy. It’s not something you’d want to happen to anyone.”
The duo met while Atsu was playing for Porto, and he was signed by Chelsea in 2013, albeit he did not play for the Blues.
He spent time on loan at Everton and Bournemouth before joining Newcastle, who Rupio says have “helped me in every single way they could help,” for which she is “very grateful.”
‘You served our nation well,’ says Christian Atsu. ‘May you rest in peace.’
Christian Atsu is remembered on Sportshour.
She also stated that the Professional Footballers’ Association assisted her in finding a therapist, and that her eldest kid had received counseling at his school.
“He is the main one who is struggling because he has more memories,” Rupio said, adding that he is “not really ready to talk about it.”
Her younger kid has started asking questions about his father that are “sometimes very difficult to answer.”
Their daughter recently turned four, and on her special day, “she asked when her dad was going to call.”
“You have to be strong,” she said. “Obviously, you can express your emotions, but you can’t collapse.”
“You have to be the rock for everyone now.” It’s difficult for me to manage everything since I frequently breakdown.”
‘He wasn’t simply skilled; he was also a decent person.’
Atsu debuted for Ghana in 2012 and went on to collect 65 caps, helping the Black Stars reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final.
Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s all-time leading goalscorer, was among those to pay tribute to his old teammate, and he is remembered for what he accomplished off the field as much as what he achieved on it.
Atsu aided Becky’s Foundation in converting a children’s home in the Ghanaian seaside town of Senya Beraku into a school, and he was a frequent visitor, with some of the youngsters referring to him as “father.”
After his remains was returned to Ghana, a traditional week-long period of mourning was observed, and he was honored with a state funeral in the capital Accra, attended by hundreds of people, including Ghana’s president.