Former Ghana international Christian Atsu was found dead on Saturday under the rubble of his home, almost two weeks after a devastating earthquake in Turkey.
Atsu, 31, was caught up in a 7.8-magnitude quake that rocked Turkey and Syria on February 6, killing more than 43,000 people in both countries.
There were initial reports the former Chelsea and Newcastle player had been rescued a day after the quake, but these turned out to be false.
His manager in Turkey, Murat Uzunmehmet, told DHA news agency on Saturday that his body had been found under the rubble of luxury flats that crumbled in the Turkish southern province of Hatay.
“We have reached his lifeless body. His belongings are still being removed. His phone was also found,” Uzunmehmet told DHA.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce to everyone the body of Christian Atsu was found this morning,” his Ghana agent Nana Sechere tweeted.
Ghana’s ministry of foreign affairs said it had “received the unfortunate news”.
“The elder brother and twin sister of Christian Atsu and an officer of the (Ghanaian) embassy were present at the site when the body was recovered,” the ministry said in a statement.
Atsu scored the last of his 33 career goals for Hatayspor in Turkey’s Super Lig on February 5, hours before the quake struck.
“There are no words to describe our sadness,” tweeted his Turkish top-flight club.
– ‘Special person’ –
“We will not forget you, Atsu. Peace be upon you, beautiful person.”
Earlier in his career he spent four seasons at Chelsea, mostly out on loan, before a permanent transfer to Newcastle in 2017.
On Saturday, Atsu’s wife Marie-Claire Rupio and his three children were in the stands at St James’ Park to join the tribute to the player before Newcastle’s Premier League match against Liverpool.
With Atsu’s face displayed on the video scoreboard and fans chanting “you’ll never walk alone”, Rupio wiped away tears during a moving minute’s applause from the 52,000 capacity crowd as one fan held up a Newcastle shirt bearing the star’s name.
Chelsea issued a statement declaring: “It is with enormous sadness that Chelsea Football Club receives the news that Christian Atsu is confirmed as one of the many victims of the dreadful earthquake in Turkey and Syria.”
– ‘Finest ambassador’ –
On the international stage Atsu earned the first of his 65 senior caps with Ghana in 2012.
At the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations he scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Guinea in the quarter-finals. The Black Stars reached the final, losing on penalties to the Ivory Coast with Atsu picking up both the Player and the Goal of the tournament awards.
He was also part of the Ghana squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Search and rescue workers found Atsu’s body where he was staying at Ronesans Residence, a block of high-rise luxury flats that toppled over in Antakya city in Hatay.
Turkish police arrested the building’s contractor at Istanbul airport last week as he appeared to be heading to Montenegro, according to state news agency Anadolu.
African football rulers CAF said they mourned “the tragic passing of Christian Atsu” while Ghana’s Football Federation noted “the sad news” had come “after almost two weeks of emotional torture”.
Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo said “football has lost one of its finest ambassadors, one who will be difficult to replace”.