Career stability not bearing fruit for Christian Atsu
To say that Christian Atsu’s career in England has been disappointing would be an understatement.
When he arrived at Chelsea from FC Porto 2013, the diminutive wideman was fresh from an encouraging spell in Portugal and had been heralded as the Ghanaian Messi.
Failing to make the grade at Stamford Bridge, where he’d been one of the club’s army of perennial loanees, wasn’t a huge black mark against him, after all, many players have gone on to enjoy magnificent careers after being offloaded by the Blues.
Worryingly, perhaps, Atsu had failed to leave a mark during several loan spells.
After spending the 2013-14 campaign on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, he would make just five Premier League outings – across a season and a half – at Everton and Bournemouth, before finally getting some proper gametime at Malaga.
By the summer of 2016, it was hard to see another English top-flight team take a punt on the Ghana international, while a future at Chelsea appeared to be a distant dream.
After two seasons of stagnation, however, Atsu finally found an environment in which he could flourish, dropping down a division to the Championship where he made 32 outings as Newcastle United returned to the top table.
It was arguably Atsu’s finest season since his campaign with Vitesse in the Eredivisie, as he made a series of decisive contributions en route back to the top tier.
Newcastle duly bought Atsu outright – he never made a league appearance for Chelsea – and the wideman would go onto make 28 appearances in the Premier League last season.
Finally, he’d enjoyed not one but two seasons of consecutive first-team football (18 league games or more) – the first time he’d done so in his career – and finally, he was a Prem regular.
Admittedly, it was a troubled season for Newcastle, and Atsu’s output was diminished, but for the first time, he’d remained at a club for successive seasons, and there was hope that he would kick on this term.
Certainly, instability could have been one of the reasons why Atsu – like other Chelsea loanees – had failed to make the grade earlier in his career.
While he’s consistently impressed at the Africa Cup of Nations while in the familiar confines of the Ghana national team, those performances were unlikely to ever be replicated at Bournemouth or Everton, where he was always in the process of adapting to new environments and diverse styles.
Also, in Rafael Benitez, a coach who Atsu has described as a ‘father’ figure, the West African had finally found a mentor who believed in him and who had faith that the attacker could be a hit in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, admittedly amidst a problematic context and turmoil at St James’ Park, Atsu has wholly failed to build on his progress this season.
The player believes that the surgery he underwent ahead of the World Cup, after picking up an injury in May, explains a slow start to the season in which he’s played just 186 minutes to date.
“The surgery I had has affected me in several ways,” he told Hello FM last month [as per Goal].
“[Last] season, I played a lot of games but things have changed this time around because of the surgery I underwent before the World Cup.
“It has really affected my play because I’ve been a little slow but I’m working hard to hit top form soon,” he added. “Benitez understands my situation and he is trying his best for me.
“In fact, he has, in a way, adopted me as his son and I regard him as my father too.”
However, despite returning to full fitness, Atsu hasn’t grown into the campaign as he might have hoped.
Even though Newcastle are struggling for form, the winger has played more than 36 minutes in the league on only one occasion this term, with Benitez preferring Matt Ritchie, Kenedy and Jacob Murphy in wide areas.
Atsu will be 27 later this season, and he’s firmly in the territory of his career where he must begin influencing and deciding contests regularly if he’s to even come close to realising his potential.
Sadly, he appears further from doing that than he has been since the end of his miserable spell at Bournemouth, and it’s hard to envisage him as a catalyst for improvement in Newcastle’s season.
The clinical finishing Atsu has demonstrated at international level, has rarely been evidenced at Newcastle, while his crossing has rarely been a strong element of his game.
Up to now, a lack of stability can be blamed for Atsu’s inability to realise his potential.
Now, assuming he can rediscover his previous sharpness, the forward must take Newcastle’s toil as an opportunity to assert himself and prove that he can yet be a key performer in one of Europe’s major leagues.