Daily Mail

Grubby. Classless. The five-year legal battle over plane crash victim Emiliano Sala drags us into football’s sewers

- Herbert Ian @ianherbs ian.herbert@ dailymail.co.uk

There weren’ t many of us in the chilly, oakpanelle­d coroner’s court when the mother of emiliano Sala finally got the chance to tell the world about the child she loved and lost.

Mercedes Taffarel’s statement was read out by the coroner at the inquest into his death that day, yet the small details still broke your heart.

how she had travelled around the Channel Islands after the plane carrying him crashed, wandering up and down beaches, shouting out his name, hoping he might somehow hear her.

how her boy, who to her was simply ‘emi’, had been preparing to learn english and ‘to travel to the most important places in the United Kingdom’, now he had put the doubts out of mind and signed for Cardiff City from Nantes.

Cardiff had been putting him under a lot of pressure to sign, she said. There had been haggling for cash with Nantes, who were selling him. ‘ emi felt in the middle of that. he felt in some doubt. Those weeks were intense,’ his mother related.

It was after clearing his flat and saying his goodbyes in France that the young Argentine died — five years ago this week — in the death trap of an aircraft which was carrying him to South Wales. Carbon monoxide from the aircraft’s faulty exhaust system seeped into the cabin.

It was a case which took us down into the sewers of football, reminding us of the pawns players become as chronicall­y inept clubs desperatel­y seek k solutions in the January y transfer window.

And in the endless aftermath h there has been a tawdry y epilogue to the tragedy, a grubby and classless wrangling over whether Cardiff had d technicall­y signed Sala and d were therefore liable to pay the e £15million transfer fee.

They categorica­lly were — and don’t just take my word for it. read the court papers. There are reams of them, because the whole moneygrabb­ing affair was dragged through the FIFA Players’ Status Committee, the Court of Arbitratio­n for Sport and the Swiss Federal Court, all of whom concur on this point.

examine the images of Sala ala signing for Cardiff, published on the club’s website. There is a silver pen in his hand.

But the club are still not having it. They are now taking the case to the Nantes Commercial Court, where they will argue Nantes are financiall­y liable for the £15m that they were paid on FIFA’s orders.

This, their lawyers say, is because the one-time British agent Willie McKay, who worked for the selling club as a fixer and intermedia­ry, was involved in setting up the flight.

Cardiff were more than happy to allow McKay to fly their manager Neil Warnock to Nantes on two occasions to see Sala play. They were happy to allow McKay to fly Sala and his agent to Cardiff, first to view the club, then to sign. They were even happy to let McKay organise transport from a local airport, near Barry, to Ninian Park. It was only when the plane crashed that McKay’s attachment to Nantes became a factor in their resistance to paying the fee.

Their lawyers’ latest bid to recoup that sum, and an additional £60m from Nantes plus interest for lost revenue because of the club’s Premier League relegation that year, involves using statistics specialist­s to establish whether, on the balance of probabilit­y, Sala would have scored enough goals to keep them in the top flight.

Their conclusion — you’ve guessed it — is that he might very well have done. he scored a goal every three games for Nantes in Ligue 1, you see, and a goal every two matches for Union Sportive Orleans, in the French third tier, and for Niort in the French second tier.

Cardiff’s lawyers are expected to lay all this out before three judges next month. It hardly bears imagining how the family will feel about the profession­al merits of the boy they lost becoming a matter of intellectu­al sparring in a courtroom.

That family could not have remotely imagined what a panoply of court cases, claims and counter-claims would flow after receiving a 6am call on a fateful Monday morning, five years ago, informing them that the plane had disappeare­d off the radar.

Just once in the entire, interminab­le legal process have there been a few crumbs of comfort for them to take and that was in that inquest room


The coroner, rachael Griffin, could not have done more to afford the family a kindness. She slowed the inquest’s witnesses down to a pace which allowed a Spanish translator, in court with Sala’s brother Dario, to relate the evidence to him.

She helped Dario select an image of his brother to present to the inquest jury, after a suitcase containing one the family had chosen did not materialis­e when they landed from Argentina.

During a break in one of those long days of evidence, I happened to encounter Dario in a corridor. There was no conversati­on as such. he seemed to speak no english. There were lawyers around. It was to fill a momentary silence, more than anything, that I asked if he felt the inquest might be the end of it, the end of the headlines, the end of the line. The look on his face seemed to say ‘yes’.

Little did he know. Five years on and still the cheap haggling for cash goes on.

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 ?? AFP ?? Tragedy: T d a tibt tribute tA to Argentine ti footballer Emiliano Sala
AFP Tragedy: T d a tibt tribute tA to Argentine ti footballer Emiliano Sala
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