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Ghanaian soccer player Christian Atsu found dead in Turkey earthquake rubble

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Christian Atsu during the Newcastle United Training Session at the Newcastle United Training Centre on January 28, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)
Christian Atsu, who had been missing since the massive earthquake struck Turkey and Syria early last week, was found dead amid the rubble. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images) (Serena Taylor via Getty Images)

Christian Atsu, a Ghanaian soccer star who played at a World Cup and in the English Premier League, has been found dead under earthquake rubble in Turkey. He was 31.

Search teams retrieved Atsu's body from the ruins of the building where he lived in Antakya, the Hatay province city that was hit hardest by the 7.8-magnitude quake, which has killed at least 45,000 people in Turkey and Syria.

Atsu had been playing for Hatayspor, a Turkish Super Lig club based in the southeastern city. On Sunday, Feb. 5, mere hours before the earthquake struck, he scored a game-winning goal against Kasimpaşa.

He had moved to Turkey after stints at nine different clubs in five other countries. He broke through at FC Porto in Portugal as a teenage winger, then signed with Chelsea in England. He later spent five seasons at Newcastle United from 2016-2021.

News of his death, which was confirmed by his representatives, sparked sadness at those clubs, among his former teammates, and throughout global soccer.

"There are no words to describe our sadness," Hatayspor said in the club's first tweet since the quake.

Hatayspor said that Atsu's body was being transported back to his hometown in Ghana.

Atsu was born in the coastal city Ada Foah, just east of Accra. As a child, he moved around the country to multiple soccer academies before moving to Europe. He then debuted for Ghana's senior national team at age 20.

At 22, he represented his nation at the 2014 World Cup. Just six months later, he starred at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and was named player of the tournament. He played more than 60 times for Ghana in total.

“We would like to express our deepest condolences to his wife and children, the family, loved ones and the football community," the country's soccer federation said in a statement.

Nana Akufo-Addo, the nation's president, added in a statement: “Ghana football has lost one of its finest personnel and ambassadors, one who will be difficult to replace. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Not long after the earthquake, amid reports that Atsu was missing, Hatayspor announced that he had been found alive. But the club soon corrected its statement and said the information it had received was mistaken. Atsu and the club’s sporting director, Taner Savut, remained missing for over a week, and Savut has not yet been found.

Both lived at the 12-story Ronesans Rezidans building, which has become the subject of local rage for its shoddy construction. It had been advertised as "a piece of paradise" and "earthquake-proof." But it crumbled on Feb. 6, one of an estimated 84,700 buildings that collapsed or suffered damage amid the quake.

Its collapse left the loved ones of many residents fearing the worst. The building's contractor, meanwhile, was reportedly detained at Istanbul Airport last week, apparently trying to flee the country.

Atsu's family members had traveled to Turkey in an attempt to find him, as search teams sorted through the rubble. His body and some belongings were finally recovered this week.

“My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones," his agent tweeted.

Hatayspor also indicated in tweets that other club employees — Hüseyin Danahaliloğlu, a youth goalkeeping coach; Suzan Berber, a member of the kitchen staff; and Onur Akdeniz, a first-team staffer — had died in the earthquake, whose death toll continues to rise.