Argentinian striker’s move to Cardiff was a natural progression as his goal-scoring record steadily improvedBy Adam White for Get French Football NewsOutside of Paris, goals can be rare in Ligue 1. But since joining Nantes, Emiliano Sala has scored more t

Emiliano Sala, the humble forward who enriched everyone's lives

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  • 2019-01-29 02:30:11 10 months ago
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Outside of Paris, goals can be rare in Ligue 1. But since joining Nantes, Emiliano Sala has scored more than most. He was outstanding in the first half of this season and attracted interest from abroad. Having travelled to Wales twice to agree a potentially career‑defining transfer with Cardiff, he returned to Nantes to say goodbye to his teammates on Monday night.

“The last goodbye” was the caption Sala put on a social media post of himself surrounded by them at the club’s training ground before he was driven to the airport for his return to Wales and Premier League football by Nicolas Pallois, a Nantes defender and close friend. Sala was due in Cardiff by 9pm but never arrived after the plane in which he was travelling disappeared over the Channel.

Sala was born in Santa Fe in Argentina but has called France home since his teenage years. Five years spent at Bordeaux’s partner club, Proyecto Crecer, in Argentina eventually brought him to Les Girondins in 2010. He scored 18 goals on loan with the third-tier club Orléans in 2012‑13, which convinced the Ligue 2 team Niort to take the young forward, again on loan, for the following campaign. Another 18 league goals earned him a place in Willy Sagnol’s Bordeaux senior squad for the 2014-15 season.

Sala discovered a second family in Bordeaux. Marcelo Vada, the club’s under-16s coach, also an Argentinian, and his son and fellow Proyecto Crecer graduate, Valentin, housed Sala during his time at the youth set-up at Bordeaux. Valentin, who became like a younger brother to Sala, tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Come on, brother! Please return.”

Yacine Bammou, who played up front with Sala at Nantes, also felt a sense of brotherly loss when he heard the news. “It’s really very hard, even for those around me. He often came to my house, he was my brother.” Bammou had been in contact with Sala two days previously: “I spoke to him on FaceTime. I congratulated him on signing. We had a good laugh.”

Sala started the 2014-15 season at Bordeaux but, after one goal in 11 appearances in Ligue 1, he was sent on loan again, this time to Caen, where his performances improved. Sala scored five times in the second half of the season, including in a 2-2 draw with PSG. Nantes were sufficiently convinced to spend €1m to acquire his services that summer.

Profile

Emiliano Sala's career in focus

Age 28

Born Santa Fe Province, Argentina, on 31 October 1990

Position Forward

Club career
2012-15 Bordeaux
2012-13 Orléans (loan)
2013-14 Niort (loan)
2015 Caen (loan)
2015-19 Nantes: played as recently as last Wednesday, coming on as substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Nimes
2019 Cardiff City: signed 3.5-year deal for a club-record £15m on Saturday

Photograph: Sébastien Salom-Gomis/Rex Features

His form was a little undulating during his first season with Les Canaris, but six goals made him their leading scorer in Ligue 1. He grew into his role at the club. Trusted with responsibility as the sole forward by a host of managers, he became ever more efficient. Bullying defenders with his physicality and supreme aerial ability, Sala scored 12 in each of the next two seasons.

This season, however, Sala has been a revelation. A familiar total of 12 goals was reached in less than half the time it took the year before. He remained one of few constants during a tumultuous season for Nantes. Despite not being an ever-present in the starting XI under Miguel Cardoso, Sala was prolific, seemingly scoring every opportunity given to him – whether off the bench or not. At one stage only Kylian Mbappé had a better goals-to-minutes ratio in Europe’s top leagues.

Vahid Halilhodzic replaced Cardoso in October and, under the guidance of the Bosnian manager, Sala often proved unplayable. His devastating hat-trick against Toulouse was a highlight and his goal in a 3-2 win against Marseille showed – as he has many times of late – that he was becoming an all-round forward of genuine top quality. With the goals flying in, at one point he was the most prolific Argentinian forward in Europe’s top leagues – no small feat considering the competition.

His tally of 42 league goals in three and a half years generated interest from abroad and Cardiff eventually reached an agreement with Nantes. Sala, who had been happy in the city and was not seeking a move, initially considered only clubs that could offer him European football. He turned down a move to China that would pay three times as much as Cardiff because he had given the Welsh club his word that he would sign.

Sala’s transfer to the Premier League may have proved career‑defining. His Twitter profile already featured him smiling giddily in a blue Cardiff shirt. As his devastated father, Horacio, explained on Argentinian TV: “For him, like for us all, his transfer to Cardiff was a big step. He is a boy who has always fought hard. A humble boy. I cannot believe it. I am desperate … I do not know what will happen … I hope that good news will come. My family knew nothing. I had to tell them.”

Humble yet driven; that sums up Sala. His imposing presence was difficult for defenders to handle but he is adored by his former teammates and colleagues. As the Nantes president, Waldemar Kita, said on Tuesday morning: “He was a polite, kind and adorable boy, loved by everyone.” Patrice Garande, who managed him at Caen, said: “I have been in front of the news since this morning; I am waiting. I cannot bring myself to believe it – this is not possible. This boy made my life an absolute pleasure on and off the pitch for six months.”

As Bammou explained, Sala always improved the atmosphere at Nantes: “In the dressing room and in everyday life he was the first to tease. He made a lot of jokes.”

We may never know how Sala would have fared in Cardiff and the Premier League, but his combination of boundless enthusiasm and optimism on the pitch and off it, alongside a largely media-shy persona, left an indelibly positive mark on anyone who played with or coached him. The outpouring of affection and hopeful messages articulated on social media or in interviews across Tuesday from teammates, clubs, managers, fans and officials across France and beyond – with many players simply tweeting “Emi …” – is testament to this. Sala had worked hard to achieve his goals and his career had just started to blossom. His star will continue to shine brightly, no matter what.

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Emiliano Sala, the humble forward who enriched everyone's lives

Thierry Henry suspended by Monaco as manager after 104 days in charge

Thierry Henry has been suspended by Monaco three months after his appointment as manager. They have won only two league games under the former Arsenal striker and are 19th in Ligue 1. The club said a final decision was pending and that Franck Passi, who arrived last month to provide experienced assistance for Henry, will oversee Friday’s training session.

It has been a troubled spell for Henry, who walked into a relegation battle when he replaced Leonardo Jardim on 13 October. At that point Monaco were 18th but their fortunes have not improved during a 104-day, 20-match stint and his frustrations rose to the surface in the buildup to Saturday’s game against Dijon, who are one place above them.

Henry said his team were “going to war” in their effort to arrest a five-game winless run in the league and suggested an attitude problem within the squad. “We need guys who want to save the club, who don’t think about themselves,” he said. Asked who would be left out at Dijon, he replied: “You will see. There are too many names.”

Monaco had shown signs of life after Christmas, a penalty shootout win over Rennes in the League Cup preceding draws at Marseille and at home to Patrick Vieira’s Nice on 16 January. After the latter, Henry observed that Monaco, who have been undermined by big-name departures and a lengthy injury list, were beginning to play the way he wanted. Henry’s former Arsenal teammate, Cesc Fàbregas, was tempted to join from Chelsea and the outlook appeared brighter.

But they took another step backwards with a 5-1 home defeat to Strasbourg last Saturday, playing 83 minutes with 10 men, and were defeated 3-1 at Stade Louis II by Ligue 2 side Metz in the French Cup on Tuesday. That appears to have pressed Monaco into action, with reports suggesting Jardim could make an unlikely return should Henry’s exit be confirmed.

Back to the start: Thierry Henry joins Monaco as head coach – video

European round-up: Marco Reus stars as Borussia Dortmund thrash Hannover

Borussia Dortmund stretched their lead in the Bundesliga over Bayern Munich to nine points after hammering Hannover 96 5-1.

Captain Marco Reus, who was making his return after an ankle injury, scored one and set up another as his team turned up the pressure on Bayern, who host Stuttgart on Sunday.

Defender Achraf Hakimi opened the scoring in the 24th minute after playing a one-two with Raphaël Guerreiro, before the home side killed the game with three goals in quick succession on the hour mark. First, Hakimi capitalised on a Hannover mistake to set up Reus, then Jadon Sancho provided Mario Goetze with a simple finish. Four minutes later, Reus set Guerreiro up for a fourth.

Marvin Bakalorz pulled a late goal back for the visitors, but Axel Witsel fired in off the post in injury time to complete the rout.

Borussia Mönchengladbach defeated Augsburg 2-0 to move ahead of third-placed Bayern on goal difference and Bayer Leverkusen won at Wolfsburg 3-0 to give new coach Peter Bosz his first win. Hoffenheim won at Freiburg 4-2, Mainz defeated Nuremberg 2-1 in a heated encounter and Werder Bremen were held to a 2-2 draw by Eintracht Frankfurt.

Atlético Madrid moved to within two points of La Liga leaders Barcelona, easing to a 2-0 home win over Getafe in an ill-tempered game which saw the visitors end the game with nine men.

Antoine Griezmann struck from just outside the area in the 27th minute and midfielder Saúl Ñíguez pounced on a rebound to double the lead 10 minutes later. Getafe’s Djene Dakonam was sent off in the 88th minute after collecting two yellow cards, and Leandro Cabrera followed him in added time.

Sevilla beat Levante 5-0 to move back up to third in the table, and Leganés came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Eibar.

Veteran forward Fabio Quagliarella scored for a record-equalling 11th Serie A match in a row to lead Sampdoria to a 4-0 win over Udinese. The 35-year-old took his tally for the season to 16 as he matched Gabriel Batistuta’s feat, which the Argentine achieved for Fiorentina in 1994, by converting two penalties. Karol Linetty added a third, before Manolo Gabbiadini scored his first goal since his move from Southampton.

Sassuolo ended a run of seven home matches without a win by thumping Cagliari 3-0. Manuel Locatelli gave them an early lead, Khouma Babacar converted a penalty in first-half stoppage time and Alessandro Matri tapped in the third three minutes from time.

Napoli, meanwhile, failed to close the gap on leaders Juventus after drawing 0-0 at Milan. They were unable to break the hosts down and lost Fabian Ruiz to a controversial red card in injury time, after the referee gave him a second yellow card for a deliberate handball.

Monaco’s troubles continued as they lost 2-0 at Ligue 1 relegation rivals Dijon in their first match since Thierry Henry’s departure and the return of Leonardo Jardim. They fell behind in the 24th minute when Kwon Chang-hoon slotted home, and were subsequently reduced to 10 men when Naldo was sent off for a second successive league game. Naim Sliti scored Dijon’s second less than 10 minutes later to confirm victory.

Guingamp suffered a 1-0 home loss to Reims and Nice beat Nîmes 2-0, while Strasbourg secured a 1-0 home win against Bordeaux. The visitors wore jerseys with the name ‘Emi’ and the number nine on for the pre-match warm-up in tribute to their former player Emiliano Sala, after a plane carrying the striker went missing.

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