Atsu can't wait to see Newcastle face old club Porto in semi-final tie
Written by Dan King
Christian Atsu admits he will be supporting both teams when Newcastle's under-23s take on FC Porto B at St. James' Park on Thursday night.
Although the Ghana-born 26-year-old is hoping that the Magpies can progress to a showpiece final against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, he retains a special place in his heart for the Portuguese club where his professional career began.
He came through the youth system at Estádio do Dragão before breaking into the first team, where he won a Primeira Liga title and lifted the Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (Portuguese Super Cup).
His performances for Azuis e brancos earned him a move to Chelsea in 2013, and from there he arrived at Newcastle, originally on loan last season before signing permanently for Rafa Benítez last summer.
Atsu will be in the crowd for Thursday's Premier League International Cup semi-final tie, which kicks off at 7pm (BST), and watching the young Porto players will bring back happy memories.
"I was playing in the junior side, the under-19 side," he told nufc.co.uk. "That was my first time in Europe and I had a great time. We won the Portuguese under-19 league and after that, we won the FIFA Blue Stars (in 2011), which is now the FIFA Youth Cup - the Champions League for youth teams.
"Their academy team is always very good. Porto have very good scouts all over the world and they try to scout those players, and they have good coaches. They love to play football and they have a lot of academy players who are also playing in the first team, so you can see that development is very good in Porto.
"I had a trial with FC Porto (as a teenager), did a trial for three days and then they said they wanted me to stay for six months. After, by God's grace, I impressed them and then I signed a one-year contract with them. After the one year, I signed a professional contract with them.
"I thank God because my progress was really quick. I played for the under-19s and then after that, did pre-season with the first team. They sent me on loan for one season (to Rio Ave), then I came back and went straight into the first team.
"I was lucky to play with great players like Hulk, (Radamel) Falcao, Jackson Martínez, James Rodríguez, and I learnt a lot there.
"A few weeks ago, I was in Portugal and I watched their home game against Rio Ave. I have a very good relationship with the club so I'm very happy that they are here to play my team, Newcastle, and I can go there and support both teams!
"I'm very happy that they are playing. I will watch the game and then after, I will see the coaches and the young players. I will support Newcastle to hopefully win, and then also see the players and staff of FC Porto."
But while Atsu is one of several success stories to emerge from Porto's academy, he believes Newcastle's own youth set-up is making positive strides.
"An example is Paul (Dummett)," said Atsu. "He came from the academy and you can see how great he is playing. We are very happy with him so he shows that there are great players in the academy and they can also make it to the first team.
"And I've trained with some of (the current under-23 players) also. They have great talent and I believe most of them can break into the first team if they really want to, and continue working hard.
"Porto is a team that loves to keep the ball, they work hard and they try to press the opponents every time. I think it will be a very good experience for them to pay against teams outside England, to see how other teams play. They will learn a lot."
A result must be achieved on the night, with extra time and penalties if required.
Admission on Thursday night will be via the East Stand, and is free to season ticket holders and members, otherwise it's £3 for adults and £1 concessions.
The game will also be shown live on NUFC TV, with former Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper joining John Middleton in the commentary box. Coverage starts from 6.55pm (BST).
"They love to play football and they have a lot of academy players who are also playing in the first team, so you can see that development is very good in Porto."