Nantes, France | AFP | He was born in Argentina, made his name in France but lost his life over the English Channel on his way to play for a Welsh club.
On Thursday, it was confirmed that a body recovered by British investigators from the submerged wreckage of a plane that went down in the Channel was that of footballer Emiliano Sala.
The 28-year-old had agreed to leave Nantes in France for Cardiff in the Premier League for a reported £15 million (17 million euros; $19.3 million) last month.
“For me it feels special,” the 1.87m-tall Argentine forward had said of his new career.
An imposing physical presence but also adept with his feet, Sala was leaving Ligue 1 having scored 12 goals this season.
– Little known back home –
That tally also matched his statistics for each of the last two campaigns, and only a certain Lionel Messi has scored more goals this season among Argentine players in the big five European leagues.
Despite that, Sala never played for his country and remained little known back in his homeland — an article on the website of popular sports daily Ole last month carried a headline: “Who is Emiliano Sala?”
That is because, like many talented young footballers in Argentina, Sala left for Europe at such a young age.
Born in the province of Santa Fe, Sala developed as a player at Proyecto Crecer (Growth Project), an academy based in the town of San Francisco, four hours north of the capital Buenos Aires.
The academy has a partnership with Bordeaux, and Sala was one of a handful of players to have gone from there to the French side. Another, midfielder Valentin Vada, is currently in their first-team squad.
Having joined Bordeaux aged 20 in 2010, Sala never really broke into their first team, but he had prolific spells on loan in the French lower leagues, including at Niort in Ligue 2.
After another loan stint at Ligue 1 side Caen, Sala was sold to Nantes in 2015 and quickly became a fan favourite for his performances in the famous yellow shirt of the Canaries.
Despite Sala’s importance to Nantes, he was keen to move on, and club president Waldemar Kita was keen to cash in on a player whose contract was due to expire in 2020.
Having finally put pen to paper on his move to Cardiff, Sala was back at Nantes’ Joneliere training base to collect his belongings and wave goodbye to his former teammates before departing for Wales again on what proved to be his doomed flight.