When Cardiff City and Nantes debated over whether Emiliano Sala would be allowed to play one last match for the French club last week, nobody could have anticipated the desperate turn of events that would make such a matter feel so incredibly trivial.
During negotiations between the two clubs, Nantes had reportedly been keen for Sala to feature against Angers on Sunday, but it was Cardiff who eventually got their way and the Argentine striker’s club-record £18million move to the Welsh capital was confirmed late on Saturday.
It was a story typical of the January transfer window – a buying club tenaciously chasing mid-season reinforcements but facing stubbornness from a selling club determined not to be left in the lurch by the loss of one of their key players.
Typical, that is, until a light aircraft transporting Sala to Wales from western France disappeared over the English Channel late on Monday.
Following a three-day operation covering approximately 1,700 square miles around the Channel Islands, a statement issued by Guernsey Police from harbour master Captain David Barker confirmed active search and rescue efforts had been abandoned after his team had been “unable to find any trace of the aircraft, the pilot or the passenger”.
Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson are “missing, presumed alive”, with Barker stating this must be the case until they are found. However, chances of survival at this state are considered “extremely remote” with an extensive outpouring of grief and sympathy from across the football community expected to continue.
— FC Nantes (@FCNantes) January 24, 2019
Sala’s professional breakthrough came during his time playing for Proyecto Crecer in his homeland – a youth academy with links to Ligue 1 side Bordeaux, who spotted his talent and brought him to Europe in 2012.
Although his time at Bordeaux demanded patience – Sala only made 11 league appearances for the club over three years – loan periods at Orleans, Niort and Caen gave him a platform to demonstrate his abilities.
Nineteen goals in 37 matches at third-tier Orleans, 18 in 37 league games with Ligue 2 outfit Niort and then five in 13 top-flight appearances with Caen – a period in which he played alongside N’Golo Kante and Thomas Lemar – convinced Nantes to take him to Stade de la Beaujoire on a five-year contract in 2015, paying a reported €1million for his services.
Sala quickly became a regular starter for Nantes and he racked up 42 league goals in three-and-a-half seasons for the club. This season, only Paris Saint-Germain’s star trio of Kylian Mbappe (17), Edinson Cavani (14) and Neymar (13), along with in-demand Lille forward Nicolas Pepe (13), have outscored Sala, who netted 12 from 19 games in Ligue 1.
Such form persuaded Cardiff that Sala was the man to fire them away from the relegation zone and parted with a reported £18m
In November last year, Cardiff earned praise for their conduct and compassion when hosting Leicester City in the Foxes’ first match since the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of five people.
Following Thursday’s dispiriting developments from football’s latest aviatic incident, it is Cardiff themselves, Nantes and Sala’s heartbroken family and friends who need the sport to continue rallying around them.
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