Mohammed Kudus praised referee Pol van Boekel after he decided to not book the Ajax forward for his tribute to the late Christian Atsu.
Atsu’s death was tragically confirmed last week after his body was found beneath the rubble following the devastating earthquakes in Turkey. The Ghana international had played for Hatayspor on the Sunday before the 7.8 magnitude quake hit Turkey and Syria.
The total death toll has now reached more than 46,000 across the two countries, with hundreds of thousands more people left without shelter. Atsu had been reported missing hours after the disastrous event, with search and rescue attempts continuing for more than a week.
But on Saturday, his tragic death was confirmed by his agent Nana Sechere: "It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to announce to all well wishers that sadly Christian Atsu’s body was recovered this morning. My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and support.
"I ask that whilst we make the necessary arrangements, that everyone would please respect the privacy of the family during this very difficult time."
Since the heart-breaking announcement, there have been emotional tributes across the world, including at Premier League games involving his former clubs Chelsea and Newcastle. His family were in attendance at St James’ Park as Newcastle and Liverpool fans came together to remember the winger.
There has also been an outpouring of emotion in his homeland, where his body returned on Sunday evening. “Atsu played for the Black Stars, and he was much loved, and we will sorely miss him,” Ghana’s Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia said.
And his former international team-mate Mohammed Kudus dedicated his own tribute during Ajax’s 4-0 win over Sparta Rotterdam. The 22-year-old scored the fourth and final goal and wheeled away before pulling his shirt over his head to reveal a vest with the message “RIP Atsu.”
Usually, these emotional moments are usually punctured by officials sticking to the letter of law and issuing a yellow card. However, on this occasion Van Boekel opted to keep his cards in his pocket, understanding the gravity of the situation.
"We have football rules but this is beyond football, this is about life and death,” Kudus said after the game. "The referee told me it's not allowed (shirt removal) but he understands because this is a bigger situation than football. A big respect from me to the referee."
In the days since his passing, tales of Atsu’s philanthropy have been shared far and wide. Arms Around the Child (AATC), a charity for which Atsu was an ambassador for, paid tribute to a man they describe as “truly unique and wonderful.”
Through his work with the organisation, Christian launched a campaign to build a new school in the Ghanaian area of Senya Beraku. “He always wanted to know how the children were doing and we would regularly update him on the progress of the school, which after years of building is finally nearing completion,” a statement from AATC read.
“On Saturday 4th Feb 2023, just one day before his final game in which he scored a last-minute winning goal, he responded ‘Thank you for the update. I will arrange some money so that we will be able to complete it fast. I am very happy with the progress.
"Later in the day, he emailed again to say that he would come to open the school in June and bring his Black Star friends.
"This was our last correspondence with Christian; as always, he was thinking about the children and what he could do to help others.”