Christian Atsu: Everything Celtic Fans Need To Know On Porto's Flying Winger
Christian Atsu is yet another product of FC Porto's comprehensive scouting network. Signed at the tender age of 17, the Ghanaian winger was brought in under the radar with the goal of developing his full potential in the club's youth ranks (eventually winning the award for the club's best young player in the 2010/11 season).
Even though he was called once by then coach André Villas-Boas to a first-team match, he didn't get to play until the 2011/12 season, when he was loaned out to Rio Ave. At Rio Ave, Atsu was given the time and space he needed to grow and leave his mark, without the added pressure of playing under the spotlight he would come across had he remained at FC Porto.
During that season, Atsu amassed 6 goals and 4 assists in his 31 appearances (almost all of them in the starting line-up), playing enough not only to earn his spot on FC Porto's definitive squad for the current season, but also to make a consistent impact on the team's efforts, usually taking up Varela's spot on the left wing, either starting or coming on as a substitute. In fact, his importance has been growing to such an extent that he has even played in all of FC Porto's Champions League matches, coming on halfway through the second half to punish his opponents for their weary legs.
Atsu has also been called up to play for his country, where has buried 3 goals in his 13 presences. In the latest edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, he started every match but one, claiming his place on the left wing and even forcing Mubarak into the centre.
What makes Atsu so special?
His bag of tricks would be enough to set him apart, but that's not the whole story. Atsu is also explosive in 1v1 situations due to his sheer speed on and off the ball, which makes the full-backs' job very hard (stick to him too tight to keep him from getting the ball and he will suddenly sprint past you; afford him space and he will use all of his tricks to nutmeg you). Atsu has another trait that sets him apart from most of his fellow African wingers: the ability to play a through-ball and consistently make good decisions in the final third, a feature somewhat unexpected in such a young player.
Even though he can play both on the wing (especially the left) and off a striker, Atsu is at his best on the flank, where he is given more time and space to wreak havoc with his fast, unpredictable sprints and feints.
About to enter the last year of his contract, it is little wonder that Atsu is on the tip of the tongue of most of Europe's major outfits. If FC Porto don't manage to tie the left winger to a long-term deal, they will risk seeing him leave for next to nothing, either in this Summer or the next.