Wales

Emiliano Sala felt 'forced out' by Nantes before plane crash

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Media captionEmiliano Sala was on his way to play for Cardiff City when the plane carrying him crashed

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 are being held in Nantes and Cardiff in memory of Sala and Mr Ibbotson, marking one year since the plane went missing over the Channel Islands.

One of those attending was Cardiff defender Sol Bamba, who said: "Me personally, I knew the lad so it was massive for me to be here on behalf of his family and all his friends... so it's very important for everyone.

"I think when there's a tragedy like that the football community get together and I think it's important.

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.

Image caption A service is being held in Cardiff to mark the anniversary of Emiliano Sala's death
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Media captionCardiff City's Sol Bamba pays tribute after the service
Image caption Fans have begun to leave tributes to Sala outside the Cardiff City Stadium

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.

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.

Image caption Tributes are being left next to statue of Cardiff's FA Cup winning captain Fred Keenor
Image copyright Getty Images / Family photo
Image caption Emiliano Sala in his playing days at Nantes and as a young boy in Argentina
Image copyright Mercedes Taffarel
Image caption This was last time Mercedes Taffarel saw her son Emiliano Sala alive

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.

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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.

Image caption A Nantes shirt left in tribute to Sala outside Cardiff City Stadium

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, 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.

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

"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."

Image caption Jean-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.

BBC Wales News Focus can be contacted by emailing news.focus.team@bbc.co.uk

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