Ghanaian player Christian Atsu helped Newcastle United get a promotion to the English Premier League making a case for his loan spell away from Chelsea.
Rafa Benitez’s side was back in Premiership after a 4-1 win over Preston North End with Atsu a central fixture in that. When he controlled a pass at the end of the first half and slotted in Newcastle’s second, he had in many ways ensured that he will feature in the conversations about Newcastle’s plans for the season.
He played 30 games for the Magpies this season, most of them off the bench with thirteen as starts, scored four times and provided three assists. They are not numbers that jump at you but they represent progress for a player for whom club football has proved depressingly different from the national team.
One Twitter user claimed he is a lion at club level and a kitten at national team level. It reflects a general sentiment about a man who comes to life for Ghana and thrives into tournaments but whose club career has left question marks over hunger, ambition and everything else.
This season has been different. Not since a spell at Vitesse Arnheim in Holland where he was player of the year for the club has he been enjoyed club football this much. He never got going at Everton, Bournemouth was even worst and despite starting life at Malaga with a goal, he faded off quickly.
Maybe much of what happened at Newcastle this season is down to a desire to be more central to a team.
“Newcastle is a big club and I am happy to have a chance to play here in the bid for promotion,” he says. He also spoke of the connection he felt with Rafa Benitez, the Newcastle boss, the phone calls before and after every game at the AFCON, how he had set up a WhatsApp group to monitor himself and the other Newcastle players and how the Spaniard has made him feel welcomed and wanted at the club.
All that has reflected in the way Atsu has played this term; with a smile on his face, trusted for the big games as he was on Monday night when he responded with a goal and buzzing all round.
The next step for him is where he goes from here. He still has to negotiate a deal because he is still a Chelsea player. It is a no brainer what he has to do. He needs a bit of continuity, a club where he is trusted and the chance to play in what he considers the best club in the world.
“I want to prove myself in the English Premier League,” he has said in the past. He has been a Chelsea player since 2012 but still has no official game for the club to his name.
In that period he has continued to display great form whenever he has pulled on the Ghana shirt. Best player at the 2015 Nations Cup, part of the team of the tournament at the 2017 edition.
The next level is inevitable. Now Atsu like many Ghanaians will hope Monday marks a major step on the way to that.