Christian Atsu’s wife Marie-Claire Rupio says she “hopes his name will never go away”, six months after his tragic death.
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Rupio has spoken about the former Newcastle and Ghana midfielder losing his life in the earthquakes that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria.
They 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, I just hope that his name will never go away. I was shocked, it was hard to believe” she said.
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.
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 partner 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 that 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.”
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.”