The body of former Newcastle United footballer Christian Atsu has been found under the rubble of the building where he lived in Turkey, his agent has said.
Atsu, who had been playing for Turkish Super Lig side Hatayspor, was missing since earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria on February 6.
The 31-year-old had been misidentified and falsely reported as hospitalised last week.
A statement from the representative of Atsu, Nana Sechere, said: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to announce to all well-wishers that sadly Christian Atsu’s body was recovered this morning.
“My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and support.
“I ask that whilst we make the necessary arrangements, that everyone would please respect the privacy of the family during this very difficult time.”
Newcastle said they were “profoundly saddened” by the death of Atsu, who was part of the team which won promotion back to the Premier League in 2017.
“A talented player and a special person, he will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters,” a statement said.
A minute’s silence was held at St James’ Park on Saturday night ahead of the Premier League match against Liverpool, in memory of Atsu.
The Ghanaian became a fan favourite on Tyneside, making 107 appearances between 2016 and 2021 and scoring eight goals.
He moved to Newcastle from Chelsea on a permanent deal for £6.2m in 2017.
Chelsea said they received the news of Atsu’s death with “enormous sadness”.
“Chelsea sends our heartfelt condolences to Christian’s family and friends and to all those affected by the earthquake tragedy,” a statement said.
Former Chelsea club captain John Terry tweeted: “RIP my friend.”
Atsu also played for Premier League clubs including Bournemouth and Everton.
His Turkey-based agent, Murat Uzunmehmet, told reporters that Atsu was found beneath the rubble of his home in southern Turkey.
He said: “Atsu’s lifeless body was found under the rubble. Currently, more items are still being taken out. His phone was also found.”
Atsu is survived by wife Marie-Claire Rupio Atsu and their three children.
His elder brother and twin sister were present at the recovery of his body. Atsu will now be flown home to be buried in his home country.
Atsu was scheduled to leave Turkey just hours before the earthquake, having agreed to join a new club in France.
But he chose to stay after scoring a stoppage-time winner in Hatayspor’s Super Lig match against Kasimpasa on the day of the earthquake.
Hatayspor manager Fatih Ilek told Turkish radio yesterday: “Atsu wanted to play more and asked for permission from his coach to leave if he wasn’t going to get it.
“He bought a ticket to fly to Istanbul, and from there to France. He was going to look for a club to get more playing time.”
Atsu moved to Turkey last September, signing for the Antakya side on a one-year contract. He lived in the southern Turkish city with Hatayspor’s sporting director Taner Savut, who is still missing.
The club tweeted: “We will not forget you, Atsu. Peace be upon you, beautiful person. There are no words to describe our sadness. Rest in peace.”
Atsu also enjoyed a decorated career at international level, making 65 appearances for Ghana and scoring nine times.
He represented the West African nation at the 2014 World Cup and was named player of the tournament at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, in which Ghana were finalists.
Atsu first moved to Portugal aged 17 to pursue football, signing for Porto the same year.
Ghana’s foreign ministry wrote in a statement on Saturday morning: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration has received the unfortunate news of the recovery of the body of Christian Atsu from the rubble of his apartment, following the earthquake which struck Turkey on February 6 2023.
“The elder brother and twin sister of Christian Atsu and an Officer of the Embassy were present at the site when the body was recovered.
“The Embassy is currently making the necessary arrangements with the assistance of the Government of Turkey to have the body transported to Ghana for burial.”
Tributes have flooded in from across the football world. Istanbul team Galatasaray tweeted its condolences to Atsu’s family.
The club wrote: “We are sad to learn that Atakas Hatayspor football player Christian Atsu lost his life in the earthquake that stifled our country.
“Our condolences to Christian Atsu’s family, fans and Hatayspor community.”
Benitez: Atsu was a special person | Howe: We’re devastated
Rafael Benitez and Eddie Howe led tributes to Atsu on Saturday Night Football ahead of Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park.
Former Newcastle manager Benitez, who spent just over three years in charge of the club until 2019, said he had been in contact with his former player last month.
Benitez told Sky Sports: “I was in contact with him last month. We were sharing some messages – it’s very difficult for me to express in English – but I was feeling so bad and I was trying to contact him.
“Also, I don’t want to forget the rest of the people because there are a lot of people that have been in a really difficult time and I think we have to help in a way and today we have to remember Christian. Really sad.”
Benitez added: “It’s really sad because he was a nice, nice, special person. He was a good professional. I don’t talk about if he’s a good player or not, he was a nice lad and a good player, but especially a really nice person.
“So a special person and everybody always, you can see the pictures, always with a smile playing or not playing.”
Rafael Benitez managed Christian Atsu during his time in charge of Newcastle.
He worked with Atsu when he was on loan at former club Bournemouth and the Newcastle boss paid tribute to him in his post-Liverpool press conference.
“It’s a very difficult day. To wake up to that news was devastating for me, everyone associated with Newcastle, everyone who knew Christian,” Howe said.
“I worked with him for a season and he was just an incredible, likeable guy, a really, really good person, really good team-mate and an outstanding player.
“It puts everything into perspective. We’re devastated for him and his family.”