Christian Atsu is crying. A silence sweeps over the room and the semi circle of journalists sat opposite the Newcastle and Ghana winger are lost for words. This is a rare moment in football. Footballers are rarely moved to tears in this way and the reason transcends the sport.
The 26 year-old is on a mission to help kids in his native Ghana who have become orphans. He’s putting his heart and soul into making a difference and will hold a special gala dinner on March 14 in Newcastle with the charity Arms Around The Child.
To promote the event he has been speaking to the media and ahead of our exclusive interview he’s broken down when the questions bring back strong memories of what he’s seen orphans go through.
“When you grow up in a difficult situation you know exactly the suffering”, he tells the Voice of Sport.
“If you don’t have any support you are going to suffer for the rest of your life.”
Atsu doesn’t want to see anymore children abused, imprisoned, affected by HIV, trafficked or sold - and he is determined to use his prominence as a Premier League footballer to prevent this. He visits the children regularly and cares greatly for them.
“I want to show love to the kids and that’s why I’m very involved in charity work.
“They are very happy when they see me. They always look up to me, they want to become better in the future and now they believe there is life - there is hope that they can live.
“We are organising a gala dinner here in Newcastle and we want to raise funds to provide better schooling and build houses for the young people - so we can try to help solve the problems on the streets.”
Hosted by Marvin Humes, British rap artist Ramz will be performing at the gala event and Newcastle United’s players will be out in force to support their team mate and the charity.
The North East of England is another world compared to where Atsu grew up in Ghana’s capital Accra. When reflecting on memories from his childhood he reveals he still plays barefoot when he returns.
“I enjoying playing on the streets barefoot and this stays with me even now!
“Sometimes I still play football barefoot with my friends at home. We also play on the bad pitches too - but now with boots and
with other professional players when we are on holiday in Ghana.”
This summer Atsu will be watching the World Cup on the television during his holiday as Ghana failed to qualify. Senegal, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia are the African countries hoping to become the first to win the tournament from the continent.
The Black Star picks out Senegal, Nigeria and Egypt as sides to keep an eye on.
“When you look at the Senegal team they have Sadio Mane and deserved it (World Cup finals qualification). So with hard work I think they will do well.
“The Nigeria team have a lot of young players - very talented players - who are playing at a high level.
“Some are playing in La Liga, some in the Premier League and when you look at their group they won almost all of their matches. So I believe Nigeria will be one of the countries to go far in the World Cup.
“Also Egypt - they have Mohammed Salah, they have a very good coach and they play really compact. I have played against them and they are really hard to play against. I believe they can also go far.”
And what of the Black Stars? What is their focus?
“The fans were really disappointed when we couldn’t qualify for the World Cup but we have the African Nations Cup coming in 2019. We haven’t won it for 36 or 35 years now and the fans in Ghana are really angry with the Black Stars because of this.
“So for us, we want to tell them that we are working hard and preparing for the 2019 African Nations Cup - which they would prefer (we won) to the World Cup. So we are very confident that we will give them what they want.”
A confirmed victory for Atsu is his inclusion in the Best of Africa (BOA) 100 Players of the Year. The BOA awards, held in central London next month, are now well established in the football calendar and the Newcastle star is a supporter.
“To be amongst the African 100 players is a great thing and I wasn’t expecting it, so it comes as a nice surprise to me.
“It’s very good for people to see we have a lot of African players doing well, so this will also help to raise the profile of African players in the Premier League.”