As Cardiff City and Nantes debated the terms of Emiliano Sala’s transfer to the Welsh club last week, nobody could have anticipated the events that would subsequently unfold.
During negotiations between the two clubs, Nantes had reportedly been keen for Sala to feature one last time against Angers on Sunday, but it was Cardiff who eventually got their way and the Argentine’s club-record £18million move was confirmed late on Saturday.
It was a story typical of the January transfer window – a buying club desperate for 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.
Guernsey Police conducted search and rescue operations for the plane throughout Tuesday without success, suspending the search overnight. It will resume at sunrise.
“We have found no signs of those on board,” the police said in a statement. “If they did land on the water, the chances of survival are at this stage, unfortunately, slim.”
There remains hope Sala will be found, but tributes being laid outside Cardiff City Stadium and a gathering of Nantes fans in the French city suggests supporters are fearing the worst.
Search and rescue operations have been suspended as the sun has now set.
The current plan is for it to resume at sunrise tomorrow.
There will be no further updates tonight.
— Guernsey Police (@GuernseyPolice) January 22, 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.
It is that kind of form which will have persuaded Cardiff that Sala was the man to fire them away from the relegation zone and to part with a reported £18m. On Tuesday night, however, prayers were being said that Sala would live to start his new chapter with the Premier League club.
— FC Nantes (@FCNantes) January 22, 2019
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.
As football steels itself for the next update in football’s latest aviatic incident, it is Cardiff themselves – and Nantes – who need the sport to rally around them.