Christian Atsu’s partner Marie-Claire Rupio says she “hopes his name will never go away”, six months after his tragic death.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Rupio has spoken about the former Newcastle United and Ghana midfielder, who lost his life in the earthquakes that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria.
The earthquakes claimed more than 50,000 lives with Atsu, 31, found dead under the rubble of his home in Antakya on 18 February, almost two weeks after the quakes.
He and Rupio had three children together, aged nine, six and three at the time of his loss.
“For me, it’s very important that his name is still there, especially for the children, that he was known, that he was loved by everybody,” she says.
“I just hope that his name will never go away.”
Speaking to media for the first time since his passing, Rubio describes the confusion over whether Atsu was safe, hearing about developments on the radio and the impact his death has had on her and their children.
‘I was shocked, it was hard to believe’
Atsu was in Turkey having signed for Hatayspor last September, while his family remained in Newcastle.
Rupio last spoke with him on Saturday, 4 February, and because his team were playing Kasimpasa the next day, he planned to speak with her again on the Monday.
Atsu scored the game’s only goal in stoppage time and his wife messaged to congratulate him. His reply to thank her would be the last contact they had.
On the Monday, Rupio heard about the earthquake on the radio while driving.
“I didn’t believe that it could happen in a place [where] he would be,” she said. “As a human being, you think this can’t happen to you or anybody you love.
“I was like ‘he’s fine and he will call’. But then after a while his sister called and told me that his building had totally collapsed. I was shocked, it was hard to believe.”
Subsequent news reports created confusion over what had happened with Atsu, who made 121 appearances for Newcastle between 2016 and 2021.
On 7 February his club’s vice-president said he had been “removed from the wreckage with injuries”.
However, the following day his agent Nana Sechere said that his whereabouts were yet to be confirmed.
Rupio then told BBC News she believed her husband was still alive and appealed for more equipment to clear the rubble.
“I didn’t really read any news,” said Rupio. “I relied on his agent, Nana, and his sister.
“Our children heard from their school that he has been found and then they came home and heard on the radio again that he hasn’t been found. It wasn’t nice, but I told them he might be found because you still want to believe [in] the positive outcome.”
Being ‘the rock’ for their children
Sechere was in the Hatay province to monitor the search for Atsu and later confirmed he had been found dead, after calling Rupio in the early hours of the morning to inform her.
“I couldn’t really cry because I was in shock,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe [it was true]. I think my body just shut down.
“The next morning the children had football and I didn’t want to take that from them. After [that] I had to sit them down and explain it to them.
“It’s not easy. It’s not something you would wish on anybody.”
The pair met while Atsu was playing for Porto and he earned a move to Chelsea in 2013, although he did not make a first-team appearance for the Blues.
He had loan spells with Everton and Bournemouth before joining Newcastle, who Rupio said have “helped me in every single way they could help”, for which she is “very grateful”.
She added that the Professional Footballers’ Association have helped her find a therapist while her eldest son has had counselling at his school.
Rupio said that “he is the main one who is struggling because he has more memories” and is “not really ready to talk about it”.
Her younger son has talked about his father more and has been asking questions that “sometimes are very hard to answer”.
Their daughter recently turned four and on her birthday “she asked when her dad is calling”.
“You have to be strong,” she added. “You’re allowed to show emotions, obviously, but you can’t fall down.
“You have to be the rock now for everybody. I do break down a lot of times, so it’s not easy to balance everything.”
‘He wasn’t just talented, he’s been a good person as well’
Atsu made his international debut in 2012 and went on to win 65 caps for Ghana, helping the Black Stars reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final.
Ghana’s all-time record goalscorer Asamoah Gyan was among the many to pay tribute to his former team-mate, and he is remembered for what he did off the field as much as he did on it.
Atsu supported an orphanage called Becky’s Foundation, helping to turn a children’s home in the Ghanaian coastal town of Senya Beraku into a school, and he was also a regular visitor, with some of the children calling him “father”.
A traditional week-long period of mourning was held after his body was returned to Ghana and he was honoured with a state funeral in the capital Accra, with Ghana’s president among hundreds of people who paid their last respects.
“He helped a lot of charities, even in the UK,” said his widow. “He’s helped a lot of people in Ghana. You can’t really talk just about [his] talent, he’s been a good person as well.
“The people who are close do know that, even from the outside as well, they have seen it.
“He’s built a school for children in Ghana and that’s something that not everybody would do, if they have money.”