Newcastle winger ready for the big challenge ahead after summer turmoil

Conor Newton
Conor Newton

It was a long week, one of the longest Christian Atsu can remember.

Atsu returned to Chelsea after helping loan club Newcastle United win the Championship trophy.

Christian Atsu in action for Newcastle against Preston last season. Picture by Frank Reid

Christian Atsu in action for Newcastle against Preston last season. Picture by Frank Reid

It was an unforgettable end to what had been an unforgettable season for Atsu, who had previously had a couple of forgettable experiences on loan.

Atsu wanted to make the move permanent.

But he had to wait.

Each day, he would report to Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey.

Atsu waited. And waited.

Finally, the call came.

It was from Rafa Benitez, United’s manager.

Atsu’s hopes and prayers had been answered.

“Honestly, he called me and told me he wanted to sign me,” said the 25-year-old, who hopes to feature in tonight’s opening pre-season friendly against Heart of Midlothian at Tynecastle.

“I was very happy.

“He called me and showed me respect, and I need to repay him back.

“It was when the season finished. I went back to Chelsea and I was waiting for one week and hoping and praying that Newcastle would take the option.

“I had my dream come true.

“I was hoping and praying that they would take the option. I was very happy at Newcastle. I wanted to be with the team.”

Asked about his week in limbo at the Premier League champions, the Ghana international added: “It was a strange week.

“I was hoping and praying things would turn out well because I was very happy at Newcastle, with the lads, the fans and the whole club.

“I wanted to be with the team.”

Atsu – who had joined Chelsea from Porto in 2013 – had previously had loan spells at Everton, Bournemouth, Malaga and Vitesse Arnhem.

And the winger, the Magpies’ first summer signing, felt it was time to “settle” at a club after a nomadic few years.

“It’s nice to be settled,” said Atsu, who scored five Championship goals last season.

“There’s nothing new here – I don’t have to move to another place and start again.

“I have already settled in well, and hopefully that will help me play.

“There are no stresses.”

Atsu, however, is keen to stress the importance of a good pre-season ahead of what is certain to be a demanding first season back in the Premier League.

Benitez’s players reported back to the club last week.

And Atsu said: “Everyone’s working hard and trying to give his best.

“We have the same coach, but it won’t be the same season.

“Everyone has to fight for a position in the team. All the lads are working hard.

“Also, I’m very happy as we’re still together like last season.”

Atsu didn’t play a Premier League game for Bournemouth during his half-season loan at the club the season before last, but he did make a handful of appearances in the division for Everton in the 2014-15 campaign.

“There is a lot of quality in the Premier League,” he said.

“This season will be a very difficult season for us, so we need to work harder than we did last season and to make sure we improve and try to compete with everyone.”

Atsu feels he is ready for the challenge ahead of him.

“I am more confident going into this season, and I believe I will be a better player than I was last season,” he said.

“I am working hard, and I know I will give my best for Newcastle. That should mean everyone will see the best of me.”

The Hearts match is followed by a week-long training camp in Ireland.

Atsu said: “We want to keep working and to improve our game. We want to always win games.

“We are well-prepared and focused. We are determined to win.”