Emiliano Sala felt ‘forced out’ by Nantes before plane crash

Footballer Emiliano Sala told a friend he felt forced out of his former club, days before he died in a plane crash.

The 28-year-old Argentine and pilot David Ibbotson, 59, were killed when the plane carrying him to his new club Cardiff City came down on 21 January 2019.

The BBC has heard a voice message in which Sala says he did not feel respected at French club Nantes.

FC Nantes refused to comment on the message.

On Tuesday events will be held in Nantes and Cardiff in memory of Sala and Mr Ibbotson, marking one year since the plane went missing over the Channel Islands.

The BBC has heard a WhatsApp voice message, sent by Sala days before the fatal flight, in which he tells a friend he felt like he was being forced out of FC Nantes after asking for his contract to be extended four times.

Sent three days before he signed for Cardiff City in a record £15m deal, Sala said he felt he had not been been kept properly informed about the transfer plans.

He adds he has not decided whether to accept the offer and is “praying for something more interesting” to come along.

Picture of Emiliano Sala and his mother Mercedes on a beach. It was the last time she saw her son
Image captionThis was last time Mercedes Taffarel saw her son Emiliano Sala alive

Speaking from Nimes Olympique, on the eve of what would turn out to be his final game for Nantes, Sala said after four years at the club: “They don’t respect me, they don’t value me.

“I haven’t made a decision… I went to get some information from this club that wants me and wants to value me for what I’m worth… I’m going to be 29 this year so I have to think about it.”

Meanwhile, the priest at the church where he worshipped said the footballer was treated as “a toy” who had little or no control over the direction his career was taking.

Twitter post by @FCNantes: Tu as endossé la tunique nantaise avec hargne et loyauté, laissant un souvenir impérissable au sein de la Maison Jaune. Face à Bordeaux, afin de te rendre hommage, le FC Nantes sera aux couleurs de ton pays. Un maillot que tu méritais !

Sala’s mother, Mercedes Taffarel, said the pain of her son’s death would “never go away” and his family have called for investigators to “speed up” their work so a full inquest can be held as soon as possible.

A pre-inquest review is due to be held at Bournemouth Town Hall on 16 March.

In a statement his family said they wanted to “finally learn the truth” about what happened and it was “imperative” police and aviation investigators finish their investigations in time.

Emiliano Sala in his playing days at Nantes and (right) as a young boy in Argentina
Image captionEmiliano Sala in his playing days at Nantes and as a young boy in Argentina

The Piper Malibu N264DB carrying Sala and pilot Mr Ibbotson went missing over waters near the Channel Islands on 21 January. It took rescuers two weeks to find the wreckage.

The footballer’s body was recovered on 8 February after a private rescue team took over the search.

The body of Mr Ibbotson, from Crowle in Lincolnshire, has never been found.

A report into the cause of the crash is expected to be published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) before the end of March.

The AAIB has already revealed potentially fatal levels of carbon monoxide were found in Sala’s blood.

Media captionEmiliano Sala’s father died not knowing why his son perished

An interim report into the crash revealed that, as a private pilot, Mr Ibbotson was not allowed to carry passengers for remuneration or financial reward.

He was also unqualified to fly at night due to his extreme colour-blindness.

Cardiff City had refused to pay any of the transfer fee, claiming it was not legally binding so Sala was not officially their player when he died.

But in September Fifa ruled the club should pay the first instalment of £5.3m (6m euros) to FC Nantes. Cardiff City have appealed the ruling.

Father Guillaume le Floc'h said he had been really angry about the way Sala had been treated
Image captionFather Guillaume le Floc’h said he was angry about the way Sala had been treated

Father Guillaume le Floc’h, priest at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Carquefou, a small town north of Nantes where Sala lived, said the player was a devout Catholic and a familiar visitor there.

He said the news of his transfer to Cardiff had been difficult, with changes being made, and he had blessed the footballer days before he died.

“I felt as if he was like a toy… [with] people deciding for him… and that was really quite difficult to live with that,” he said.

“Football players can be victims… People would say they also have some benefits from that because they earn so much money… Sure but in fact they don’t have so many choices in life and that is not very respectful for their freedom.”

Jean-Marcel Boudard said Sala's death had shed light on the flaws of the business of football
Image captionJean-Marcel Boudard said Sala’s death had shed light on the flaws of the business of football

Jean-Marcel Boudard, a sports journalist with Ouest France in Nantes, said the striker faced a “dilemma” over where to move for what he knew would be the final chapter of his career.

“It’s a drama, a human tragedy about a man, which has shed light on the flaws of the business of football,” he said.

“It’s also a story that reminds us, because as journalists we tend to forget it, that the players are also human beings before being commodities between clubs.”

Fans in Nantes have been campaigning for a permanent memorial to Sala in the city, such as a public mural of the striker or the adoption of a road in his name.

“Sala left his mark not only on the club’s history, but the town’s history too. It devastated people here,” said Florian le Teuff, president of FC Nantes supporters’ club A la Nantaise.

“During every game at the Beaujoire, Sala’s song is still heard – sung in the 9th minute to honour the memory of a player who is part of the club’s history.”

On Tuesday, a mass will be held at St Peter’s and St Paul’s, while in Cardiff a service will be dedicated to the footballer and Mr Ibbotson at St David’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

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