“Everyone is happy, except
me,” said Nantes coach Vahid
Halilhodzic last week as he accepted that his leading scorer,
Emiliano Sala, was leaving the
club in a record transfer to Premier League side Cardiff City.
The Welsh club had agreed to
pay a reported 17 million euros
for the 1.87-metre-tall Argentine forward, hoping that his eye
for goal would fire them to Premier League safety.
Now Sala, 28, is feared dead
after French authorities
confirmed that he was on
board a light aircraft that
disappeared over the
English Channel on
Monday night, just
north of the island
He was on his
way from Nantes to Wales, having signed a lucrative threeand-a-half-year contract in Cardiff on Saturday. “For me it feels
special,” he said of becoming
Cardiff’s record signing.
Despite that fact, Sala hasn’t
always had a reputation as a
marksman, but his modest scoring returns up until now were
also related to the way he played: unselfish and always looking to see if someone was in a
better position to shoot. In many
ways, he was the ideal teammate who used his height and
strength as a target man to
bring others into the game.
An imposing physical
presence but also
adept with his feet,
Sala left Ligue 1
12 goals this
season, a tally currently
bettered only by Paris SaintGermain’s superstar trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, as well as Nicolas
Pepe of Lille.
That tally also matched his
statistics for each of the last two
campaigns, and only a certain
Lionel Messi has scored more
goals this season among Argentine players in the big five European leagues.
Despite that, Sala has never
played for his country and remains little known back in his
homeland – an article on the
website of sports daily Ole on
Tuesday carried the headline:
“Who is Emiliano Sala?”
That is because, like many
talented young footballers in
Argentina, Sala left for Europe
at such a young age.
Born in the province of Santa
Fe, Sala developed as a player
at Proyecto Crecer, an academy
based in the town of San Francisco, four hours north of the
capital Buenos Aires.
The academy has a partnership with Bordeaux, and Sala is
one of a handful of players to
have gone from there to the
Having joined Bordeaux aged
20 in 2010, Sala never really
broke into their first team, but
he had prolific spells on loan in
the French lower leagues, including at Niort in Ligue 2.
After another loan stint at Ligue 1 side Caen, Sala was sold
to Nantes in 2015 and quickly
became a fan favourite for his
performances in the famous yellow shirt of the Canaries.
“People see the way he fights
for every ball. That encourages
his teammates to do the same.
He is a good example for everyone,” said Claudio Ranieri, his
coach at Nantes last season.
Despite Sala’s importance to
Nantes, he was keen to move
on, and club president Waldemar Kita was keen to cash in on
a player whose contract was due
to expire in 2020.
Having finally put pen to paper on his move to Cardiff, Sala
was back at Nantes’ Joneliere
training base on Monday to collect his belongings and wave
goodbye to his ex-teammates.
“On his last day before leaving
he came here and we had a long
discussion, he came to thank
me,” Halilhodzic said. “It’s hard
for me to express my sadness.
... I will have an unforgettable
memory of him.”
“Life can be cruel and unfair,
he does not deserve this.”