Last summer there was a lot of satisfaction among the coaching staff after finding that Christian Atsu would join AFC Bournemouth for a season-long loan from Chelsea. The winger is a recognised international for Ghana and had already been heralded as a major coup for the Cherries having been a player that was voted Africa Cup of Nations Player of the Tournament. However, a lingering stress fracture on his shin has seen him out of action since October.
While Christian is back receiving treatment at Chelsea for his injury, and has been since early November, he will also be pondering why he was finding it difficult to break into the first XI at the Vitality stadium, even before his injury. It was a similar story last season too, when he played for Everton on loan, and ended up just making a handful of appearances, mainly in the Europe League. Bournemouth are not involved in Europe so won’t have as many games and so far Atsu’s appearances have been limited to the Capital One Cup matches. His start at the club has been slow and was of course not helped by picking up a knock at Hartlepool, in the second round of the Capital One Cup, that turned into a stress fracture after another shin blow in training.
To be named in the team he has to show consistency and endeavour at very high levels, as those in front of him are players such as Matt Ritchie and Junior Stanislas, but even the latter has shown that persistence is rewarded, and it would be nice to think that the south coast might be treated to a few more appearances from a player that lit up Africa’s top international competition.
Like Mohamed Coulibaly before him, Atsu has an abundance of pace and a lively aptitude for the game which no doubt attracted Eddie Howe. Coulibaly now plays for Racing de Santander in Spain, having not quite made the grade at Dean Court, and the well trodden path of wingers that have not shifted into top gear quickly enough for the demands of Bournemouth’s young manager could see Atsu back at his parent club, without making a Premier League appearance. While the injuries have been mounting up at BH4, Atsu may yet be an addition that comes to life later this season. Certainly my son, Stephen, was expecting to see the Ghanaian make more of an impression than just seeing his sticker enter his football album, and I kind of agree that he has been more recognised for his hairstyle than from what we have seen on the pitch up until this point. Away Capital One Cup games at Preston and Hartlepool have only enabled a few hardy southerners to see him operate up close, and that’s a real pity.
Atsu will need to apply himself to the style of play that has taken the Cherries through the leagues and that might be where he was finding it difficult to make headway before his injury. Just like fellow African Tokelo Rantie, his individual flair is undoubted, and he is a firecracker of a player that is at his best running at defenders but, to be a standout Cherry, he has to work more as a pair with his full-back.
For the moment, Atsu may find that he is working towards matches in the FA Cup that start in January, and the positive is that Ghana won’t be appearing at the 2016 Africa Nations Championship after they were knocked out in the qualifiers by Ivory Coast. With more than £20 million of player talent on the sidelines for the next few months at King’s Park, it is going to be a real pity if another £3 million player has spent more time watching games than playing in them. Still, when fans say new signings often just walk into the side, it is clear that at Bournemouth you really have to earn your place, and in such a way it can be no surprise that Eddie Howe tends to get a lot more out of his players than perhaps some other managers would do.
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