Football seems to think it can learn nothing from Sala's death

IAN HERBERT: Football’s authorities seem to think there are no lessons to be learned from Emiliano Sala’s death… it has been nearly two years and the game’s woeful response beggars belief

  • It will be two years next week since Emiliano Sala’s tragic death in a plane crash
  • Cardiff City are still fighting tooth and nail not to pay French club Nantes a penny
  • There was hope Sala’s death would bring change but there has been nothing yet
  • It is hoped that the Emiliano Sala Memorial Trust might be launched this month 

There once seemed so much urgency to ensure that the death of Emiliano Sala, a pawn in football’s sordid transfer game, would bring some kind of change.

It will be two years next week since the woefully inadequate plane carrying him crashed. We’re still waiting.

Cardiff City, who had signed him from Nantes, are still fighting tooth and nail not to pay the French club a penny. The football authorities do not seem to believe there are any lessons to learn and share about what happens when young players arrive alone within these shores. A Trust Fund in the player’s name is yet to be established.

Emiliano Sala holds up a Cardiff City shirt after agreeing to join for £15million in January 2019

Sala died on January 21, 2019, after a plane carrying him to Cardiff crashed in English Channel

The apparent conclusion of governing bodies and player organisations that Sala’s death was just one of those things has barely been remarked upon. But it actually beggars belief.

Cardiff were wealthy enough to splash out £15million on the player in January 2019, making several intermediaries substantially wealthier into the bargain. There was ample cash sloshing around to have ensured that Sala, a single man alone in Cardiff with next to no grasp of English in the days approaching his death, had someone actually on hand.

‘It might sound strange but he’d left his dog in a kennel in Nantes and was fretting about how to get back to him,’ says Christian Martin, an Argentinian broadcaster and journalist who came to know Sala well. 

‘He was desperate to get back. If someone could have just found a helper for him in Cardiff, someone who spoke his language, I think it would have helped.’

Sala took a charter flight instead of the scheduled services home that Cardiff offered – via Paris or Amsterdam. He said yes to the pilot’s fateful request to put back the departure time and fly back to Cardiff through the dark. 

Cardiff aim to finally launch a £2m trust fund in Sala’s name by the end of the month

Those with no belief that human compassion and thoughtfulness might come into play will say that Sala was an adult; responsible for his own decisions. So let’s just say, before the naysayers leap in, that perhaps there is such a case to be made. But even if you take that flint-hearted perspective, it is difficult to feel anything but bewilderment for Sala’s family.

For a long time, they struggled to accept the idea that their son and brother was actually dead. When the truth finally dawned, the family imagined that the business would be settled, responsibility taken and some kind of reckoning up done. Instead, the clubs considered themselves the injured parties and fought each other over the technicalities of whose player Sala was.

His family seemed far more reticent about the question of money. Martin remembers Horacio Sala, the player’s father, tentatively phoning him several times to see if there was any word about that. He had separated from Sala’s mother, Mercedes Taffarel, and she was receiving demands for legal costs.

Four months after the air crash, Sala Snr was also dead. Killed when his heart gave in. ‘I think he was consumed by guilt,’ says Martin. ‘He never got around to saying goodbye to his son.’

If something good comes from the whole sorry tale, then it will be a £2m Trust Fund set up in Emiliano’s name – Cardiff’s idea, in all fairness – though that has also become bogged down in legal wrangling.

A man holds a picture as he pays tribute to Sala in front of the La Beaujoire stadium in Nantes

The idea was that the Trust might fund a sports stadium, in the player’s name, at his home village – Cululu in the Santa Fe province of North East Argentina. Another fitting legacy would surely be the funding of a support system for players alone in a foreign country after a transfer, as Sala was.

But there was a challenging requirement that different lawyers representing the club, the family and those managing the fund, be brought together to establish it. The Argentinian lawyer first appointed by the family proved intransigent, with demands for control. Eight months were lost before he was replaced by a family-run Argentinian outfit. Progress has since been easier.

A good working relationship between Cardiff City and the London lawyers Hickman & Rose, who will represent the family at the player’s inquest, has also helped. Work on the project effectively began again in September. Tax clearance was granted before Christmas. A trustee has been identified.

Football’s authorities seem to think there are no lessons to be learned from Sala’s tragic death 

There is hope that the Emiliano Sala Memorial Trust might be launched later this month, with global PR firm Mercury LLC contributing to awareness. It’s been 14 months since the family met Cardiff City to discuss the idea.

Sala was barely known in Argentina when he joined Cardiff. It was some consolation to him at a time of personal uncertainty about his future that his move had featured on Fox Sports and he thanked Martin for doing the report.

Only in death has he become a household name in his own country, where he will be remembered again next week.

‘People in Argentina look at how little the game, with all its money, has done for this family who have been through so much,’ says Martin.

‘They are surprised by that. Shocked by that. They think it would have been different if Emiliano had been an English player.’

The ‘crease-gate’ controversy – Steve Smith’s dismal scuffing away of Indian batsman Rishabh Pant’s guard at the SCG this week – seems the ideal moment to revisit the scene when coach Justin Langer discusses with his players the idea of them becoming ‘good blokes’, in the first episode of The Test, the Amazon documentary about the team’s so-called rehabilitation after Sandpapergate in South Africa.

‘It’s something we have to have a conversation about. There’s abuse and there’s banter,’ Langer tells the players, with pen in hand and management manual halfway up his backside.

Except there’s no conversation. Just a few players making a joke at his expense. The Test, like so many in Amazon’s fly-on-the-wall sports genre, is not so much documentary as propaganda. Lousy, toe-curling propaganda. 

A stump camera picked up Steve Smith appearing to scuff up the batsman’s guard mark

Good to see The Donald being hit where it will hurt him most, with the Trump Bedminster in New Jersey being stripped of the 2022 US PGA Championship.

A feel-good move we can all coalesce around.

So why will the IOC and FIFA be allowing China, which has built 380 internment camps in Xinjiang, to buy legitimacy by hosting the 2024 Winter Olympics and this winter’s Club World Club? Real principles demand real courage.

Best read this week: FT Weekend magazine cover story essay on Nike’s existential crisis 

Best listen this week: Cricket’s Final Word podcast. The excellent Adam Collins and Geoff Lemon’s daily insight on the Oz v India series. The fourth and final Test starts on Friday. 


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