With Emiliano Sala’s apparent death after his plane to Cardiff crashed on the English Channel, football lost an extremely promising striker who had potential to reach the top levels of the game
Since January 21, the global footballing community has been shaken by the still-developing and tragic news of one of the most recent and upcoming talents in the game going missing in a plane crash. We’re talking about Emiliano Sala, the 28-year-old centre forward who has had nothing short of a miraculous last season with French club Nantes—and whose mysterious disappearance has once again brought into the limelight the good and ugly sides of “the beautiful game.”
Sala was born to a truck driver in Argentina’s Santa Fe—the same province where Lionel Messi, too, was born. As of last December, he peaked at his career-best of 12 goals and went on to become a truly inspiring coming-of-age tale of an underdog player from an underdog team rising through the ranks and winning the hearts of millions of footballing fans across the world. His goal tally equalled the likes of French super club PSG’s Kylian Mbappe; he was Nantes’ top scorer—and in the form of his life—given which, he started attracting the attention of various scouts.
Last month, Sala secured a club record transfer of £15 million when he signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Welsh club Cardiff City FC. On January 19, he was flying back in a plane arranged by his agent, to attend his first-ever training session with new teammates—when his plane’s radar reportedly lost radar contact off the English Channel island of Guernsey. Since then, he and pilot David Ibbotson—the only two people aboard the plane—have been missing.
It took about 36 hours for the news of Sala’s disappearance to finally surface. Cardiff City fans, who, with hope in their hearts and chants on their lips, had been eagerly awaiting his arrival on their home turf, were stunned. The news of his disappearance began making headlines soon enough, with the media attempting to put the pieces together faster than the relevant authorities. But in all this frenzy, it was the club’s manager Neil Warnock who was left speechless.
The Argentinian striker has been described as Warnock’s “most-prized signing of the season.” Cardiff City had been on the search for a well-built and free-scoring striker who could spearhead the club’s attack. Sala was their perfect fit; he could hold up the ball against defenders, and run in behind defenders with reasonable pace. According to a UK-based newspaper, Warnock was “desperate to bring him to the club because of his potential aerial threat, standing at 6 feet 3 inches.”
Sala reportedly sent a distress call to his father after he boarded the plane from Nantes, in which he admitted that he was “scared” for his life.”
“Hello, my brothers, how are you? Boy, I’m tired. I was here in Nantes taking care of things, things, things, things, things, things, and it never stops, it never stops, it never stops. Anyway guys, I’m up in this plane that feels like it’s falling to pieces, and I’m going to Cardiff. [It’s] crazy, we start tomorrow. Training in the afternoon, guys, in my new team Let’s see what happens. So, how’s it going with you guys, all good? If in an hour and a half you have no news from me, I don’t know if they are going to send someone to look for me because they cannot find me, but you will know Dad, I’m scared!”
Extensive searches were launched by the Guernsey Police, and then called off, resumed and called off again, having been unable to trace any of sign of the Piper Malibu PA-46 or any of the two people aboard.
According to The Guardian, an official search operation was called off on January 24 after Captain David Barker, Guernsey’s harbour master, said the chances of survival following such a long period were “extremely remote.” The calling-off of the search caused global public outcry, both, within and outside the footballing community, with supporters of Sala’s family as well as other footballers including the likes of Lionel Messi, calling for the search to be resumed. At the same time, even the Argentinian embassy in London tried to put pressure on the UK government to try and do more.
But you see, here’s the thing about football. It divides people who support different clubs/countries, but at the same time, the core of the sport is based on the spirit of oneness—one that trumps borders as well as the phenomenal amount of money that comes along with being involved in top-tier football.
On Sunday, February 3, a private search boat hired by Sala’s family—with help from a crowdfunding appeal—located the wreckage within hours of a search starting in the sea off the Channel Islands. Although there was no immediate confirmation of what was found on the ship, oceanographer David Mearns, who led the investigation tweeted saying that the plane had been discovered. Mearns called in the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), who used a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to examine the spot and confirm the wreckage.
On Thursday, February 7, 2019, a body was recovered from the wreckage. AAIB said that the operation was carried out in “challenging conditions.” At the time of publishing this article, the body was being taken to the Isle of Portland to be passed to the Dorset Coroner, according to BBC.
No details had been released, at the time, concerning the identification of the body.
While Sala’s family, friends, supporters and well-wishers remain in a state of flux—swinging between grief and hope—his former club Nantes have quite unabashedly demanded that Cardiff City pay them their £15 million record transfer fee, since Sala was veiled to be flying off to Cardiff as a Bluebird (what Cardiff City FC players are called) when the air tragedy occurred. A source close to Cardiff City FC had reportedly told BBC that they were “surprised” by Nantes demands and were waiting for “all the facts” to emerge before making the payment.
In retrospect, Sala’s last post on social media, was tragically ironic. He posted a photo along with his former teammates at Nantes, captioned “La ultima ciao,” which means “The ultimate goodbye.”
Now, even though the thoughts and prayers of the global footballing community are with the friends and family of Emiliano Sala, his disappearance has brought to light a serious juxtaposition that exists in the world of sport. While on one hand, we have the tragic tale of him going missing in a tragic air crash, on the other, we have clubs squabbling over his monetary worth as a football player. However, football has proved, time and again, that it will choose heart over money, sportsmanship over spirit, and unity over divide. In the case of Emiliano Sala, only time will tell which way our moral compass will swing.