Emiliano Sala’s mother has revealed that her son felt ‘in some doubt’ about leaving Nantes for Cardiff before his tragic death in a plane crash.
Argentinian striker Sala died in January 2019 after the private aircraft he was travelling in crashed into the English channel off the island of Alderney.
The 28-year-old had just secured a transfer from Ligue 1 Club Nantes to Premier League side Cardiff City, and was travelling to Wales after returning to the west of France in order to collect belongings and bid farewell to his team-mates.
At £15million, Sala was Cardiff’s record signing, with then-manager Neil Warnock willing to spend big on a player who had scored 48 goals in 133 appearances for Nantes.
He died before he made an appearance for Cardiff, and supporters of both the Bluebirds and his former club in France paid tribute to him by leaving scarves, shirts, and flowers outside of their respective stadiums.
Sala’s body was found by deep-sea investigators over a fortnight after the private plane in which he was travelling disappeared. A post-mortem examination found that Sala had died from a combination of injuries to his ‘head and trunk’. The body of the pilot, David Ibbotson, has never been recovered.
In October 2021 pilot David Henderson, who had arranged the flight and originally intended to fly the plane himself, was found guilty of arranging a flight without permission or authorisation and of endangering the safety of an aircraft. He was sentenced to 18-months in prison.
The final inquest into Sala’s death began at Bournemouth Coroner’s Court earlier this morning and is expected to take five weeks. In a statement on the first day of the hearing, his mother Mercedes Taffarel said: ‘Our pain will never go away. We carry it with us all the time.’ Sala’s brother Dario has also travelled from Argentina in order to attend the inquest.
Sala’s father Horacio died just over two months after the recovery of his son’s body. The mayor of Progreso, the family’s hometown, said afterwards that the 69-year-old ‘could not overcome Emi, we thought that after the discovery he would be able to close that circle.’
Dorset Coroner’s Court heard that the 28-year-old was on board a private plane flying from Nantes to Cardiff on the evening of January 21 2019 when in crashed in the English Channel, close to Guernsey. Pilot David Ibbotson, 59, was also killed but his body has never been found.
On the first day of the inquest into the footballer’s death, his mother, Mercedes Taffarel, told the court her son’s dream since childhood in Argentina had been to be a professional footballer.
In a written statement, Mrs. Taffarel, who referred to her son as Emi, said his goal-scoring exploits in France had led to calls for him to be called up to Argentina’s national team.
“He appreciated the Nantes club and the fans very much,” she said. “An offer came in from Cardiff City in December 2018.
“It is true to say that Emi was very happy when he eventually accepted the idea of the move as he had the chance to play in the Premier League. He felt it was the right time to move clubs and to another league.
“It seemed to him that the Nantes management was also pushing his exit from the club because they were going through some financial problems.
“Emi’s transfer was the most expensive in history of the club and that also helped to push forward his transfer, even though the team coach didn’t want him to leave the club.”
She added: “Those weeks December 2018 to January 2019 seemed very intense.
“Cardiff put on a lot of pressure on him to complete the sale quickly, but Nantes asked for more money and Emi felt in the middle of the dispute.
“Emi was in some doubt to go ahead with the move. Finally, the sale was agreed, not because of his performances as a player at Nantes, which were very good, but because Nantes needed the money.
“Against the wishes of the coaching staff and the fans, Emi was sold to Cardiff, and he felt he was achieving his dream.
“After many years of effort, he had finally reached one of the most important leagues in the world, which he has always desired to play.”
Mrs. Taffarel said she spoke to her son regularly and, when she did not hear from him on the day of the flight, she assumed he had gone to bed early after arriving in Wales.
The following day she learned that the plane carrying her son was missing.
Eventually, her family organised their own sea search and the plane was located with Sala’s body inside.
“We had hope and it all ended in pain and the pain continues to this day,” she said.
“Emi was very young, with his whole life ahead of him with plans for the future, and he wanted to continue learning about football in a league as important as the Premier League.”
She added: “Our lives changed forever on January 21, 2019, and now none of us is the same.
“No-one can bring Emi back to us, but we ask for justice so that Emi can rest in peace and give us a little bit of peace of mind knowing that we did everything we could so similar deaths are prevented in the future.
“Our pain will never go away and we carry it with us all the time. All we ask for is justice and we want no stone unturned to find out what happened.”
The inquest heard that Sala had been spotted by a scout while playing in Argentina and was signed by an academy linked to top French club FC Girondins de Bordeaux.
After moving to France he signed his first professional contract with Bordeaux, before having several spells on loan with other clubs.
In July 2015 he joined Ligue 1 club Nantes and in December 2018 his goal-scoring exploits caught the attention of Cardiff City, who at the time were struggling in the Premier League.
Senior Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin told the inquest jury the Piper Malibu aircraft had left Nantes airport at 7.15pm on January 21 for the flight to Cardiff but radar contact was lost near Guernsey at 8.15pm.
Ms. Griffin said the inquest will hear a range of evidence from witnesses but the key questions for consideration will be the arrangements of the flight, the condition of the aircraft, and the cause of the crash.