A Dream Signing Becomes a Nightmare Ending

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By Harry Sutton ’20

Cardiff City F.C. shocked the world of soccer in the 2017-18 season by finishing second in the EFL Championship, gaining promotion to the top flight of English soccer for the first time since 2014.

In 2016, they were crumbling at the bottom of the second division table, likely to face a further drop to the third league. But then Neil Warnock was appointed as manager, and he transformed the Welsh team into a side that was ready to take on the best teams in England. In the summer of 2018, Cardiff brought in six new players, spending almost £28,000,000 on additions to the team. They splashed the cash and were determined that they could compete in the new league, harboring high ambitions.

Flash forward to 25 games into the season, and Cardiff City is facing the likelihood of relegation. The bluebirds have only won six of their games, and have allowed 46 goals, only scoring 22. Even with the £27,800,000 spent over the summer, the attack was not doing enough – the team was averaging less than one goal per game. Desperate for a goalscorer to rely on, Warnock turned to the fourth highest goalscorer in Ligue 1, the first division of France, Emiliano Sala. Cardiff City broke their transfer fee record, agreeing on a £15,000,000 fee for Sala of FC Nantes.

Sala was an easy choice to target for Warnock. He had been the top goalscorer on FC Nantes for the last three years, and the Argentine had expressed interest in joining Cardiff. He was recognized as a large and powerful striker, quite a handful for defenders. He relished the opportunity of quick counterattacks and has received praise for his work rates and eye for goal.

Sala completed a medical examination in Wales, returned to Nantes on the January 19 to say goodbye to teammates and collect his belongings, and intended to return to Cardiff on January 21 for his first training session with his new club.

However, on January 22, when Sala’s flight back to Cardiff hadn’t been reported successful, suspicions started that the goalscoring specialist may be in danger. The likelihood was that the Argentine’s plane had crashed for an unknown reason, and by January 22, Channel Islands Air Search said there was “no hope” of finding any survivors in the water, due to risks of hypothermia and fatigue.

Sala called those close to him when he found out that the plane was risk. In it, he said, “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!”

An underwater search for the aircraft began on February 3, and the wreckage was discovered 207 feet underwater, with a body visibly onboard. It was Sala’s, found on February 7.

Tragedy is a rare occurrence in soccer, but when it happens the football world joins together to support. In Sala’s case, soccer fans from around the world were united both in the fight to find him and in the mourning of his loss. A similar event occurred in 2016, when the Brazilian club Chapecoense’s plane crashed. Almost all players and staff were killed, and the world came together to support the side as much as they could. Sala’s situation was no different.

Argentine legends such as Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Kun Aguero and Diego Maradona financially fueled the search for Sala; Argentina’s president ordered a request for the British government to conduct a formal search for him; 65,000 people signed an online petition for his search; and over £280,000 were raised on a GoFundMe campaign.

The world pushed as hard as they could to find the 28 year-old, but when the bad news came they still showed their compassion. FC Nantes retired Sala’s jersey number, and football teams and fans around the world paid tribute to the striker in various ways, such as holding moments of silence before their games. The loss shook the entire footballing world. While these heartbreaking events happen only rarely in football, it is clear to see that in a sport that relies on competitiveness and determination, compassion and care can break through the cracks.

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