After a few years of wandering the wilderness of the loan system, future master level Chelsea trivia answer Christian Atsu seems to be carving out a happy place for himself up north where the sky is low and the football is ... well, actually good.
Newcastle United, recently relegated from the Premier League, are leading the English second division with 10 wins from 14 matches played, having scored more goals than any other team and conceded less than all but one. Led by former Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benítez, the Magpies started slowly, with back-to-back defeats, but have won 13 of their 15 games since, losing just once. Wednesday's 6-0 pasting of Preston North End in the League Cup was their sixth win a row.
Starting at left wing in that game (and hitting the woodwork twice) was Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu — just his third start in all competitions, though he's played in all but one of Newcastle's matches since arriving at the end of the summer transfer window. Atsu's impressed in all three of his starts, leading to fresh rumors this week of Newcastle exploring the option of purchasing the 24-year-old this January. When asked about it, Atsu gave a professional answer.
"I cannot comment on that. I just need a good season."
"I have moved on loan to a lot of clubs. I have to put that behind me and really focus on what I have to do today and tomorrow."
"Being at Newcastle is a great honour. I'm really privileged to play for Newcastle, and to work under Rafa Benitez is really good."
"I'm more focused on game by game, and at the end of the season we will see what will happen. I just want to help Newcastle."
-Christian Atsu; source: Shields Gazette
Since arriving at Chelsea in 2013, Atsu's had loan spells at Vitesse, Everton, AFC Bournemouth, and Málaga, but largely failing to impress each and every time. Frequent injuries did not help, though as he tells it, some of that was down to his own bad habits.
"At Bournemouth, I had a lot of injuries that brought me setbacks in my football career. I left in January to Malaga, and when I went there I had another injury again. It was so frustrating, but I thought: 'I need to take good care of myself'. I saw that I have to be responsible for these kind of things. So I tried to change how I eat, my sleep and everything. I think I'm more professional, and more focussed on my body than before."
"Every time, when there is a problem, you try to figure out where it is coming from. I found out that sometimes it's me, and I need to take good care of myself because it's my body. My sleep, my diet, everything - I tried to change everything, and I think I'm getting better."
-Christian Atsu; source: NUFC
So far so good then for Atsu — he's already played almost as many minutes as in a season and a half at Everton and Bournemouth combined — who's taking things day-by-day in the early promotion push and getting involved not just in the football but Newcastle's charitable activities as well.
Chelsea paid only £3.5m for Atsu's services in a move that always had the look of a business opportunity more than anything else (Atsu had some issues at Porto and wanted out and thus we got him at a discount). Newcastle may even have a buy-option set at an undisclosed amount, though presumably a fair bit higher than the £3.5m. Turn a profit and find Atsu a proper home finally? That's a win-win.