Who is Emiliano Sala? The £15m Cardiff signing who outscored Neymar & Cavani in France

The Argentine forward was on red-hot form in Ligue 1 before signing for the Bluebirds, but fears are growing over his safety

Cardiff City last week completed the signing of Argentine striker Emiliano Sala from Nantes for a club-record fee of £15 million ($19m).

Fears, however, are growing over the safety of the 28-year-old following a plane going missing en route between Nantes and Cardiff on Monday night. 

It has been confirmed that a light aircraft went missing over the English Channel on Monday night, with two people aboard. 

Rescue teams were scrambled to search the waters north of Alderney, though strengthening winds and increasingly poor sea conditions meant that they had to postpone their hunt. At 8am on Tuesday morning, the search began once more. 

French media have reported that Sala was on board the plane and had been driven to the airport by former Nantes team-mate Nicolas Pallois. Neither of these reports has been officially confirmed, however.

Speaking to TalkSport, Cardiff City chairman Mehmet Dalman confirmed that fears over the player’s safety are growing: “We are very concerned by the latest news that a light aircraft lost contact over the Channel last night. We are awaiting confirmation before we can say anything further. We are very concerned for the safety of Emiliano Sala.”

Goals, of course, are primarily the reason that Cardiff were willing to spend such a a record fee on the player. Sala has been a man in hot form for Nantes this term, after coming so close to moving to Galatasaray in the summer.

At that point, he was out of favour with previous boss Miguel Cardoso, who wanted his team to play a technical brand of football, but once the Argentine hit a golden seam of form, the Portuguese was forced to reassess his position.

Sala’s goals were not enough the save the coach’s job, but when he completed his move to England, he stood alone in third place in the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 12 to his credit, ahead of the likes of Paris Saint-Germain duo Edinson Cavani and Neymar. Indeed, the only players better off than him were Kylian Mbappe, who led the way on 14, and Nicolas Pepe, who has been linked with countless big sides since the beginning of the season.

He is not as glamorous a forward as either of the men who lie ahead of him. He is gangly and awkward looking, not particularly technically able, although he makes up for that with a tremendous spirit and determination.

“Frankly, I’m someone who’s really honest, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” he said earlier this term.

“I’ve got my style, it’s my nature, I’m not going to change – I’m Argentine!

“Being on the field, giving everything for myself and maybe scoring a goal, and seeing a friend or a member of my family happy in the stands, that’s what makes me happy.”

His best work is done in the penalty box, where he forms the vanguard of Nantes’ attacking line and is noted for his particularly strong work in the air. 

Despite his side’s relatively modest means, he was the recipient of 12 big chances this season, according to Opta, and has scored eight. 

Put into context, only five players in the league had been able to get into position for more such golden opportunities, while his conversion percentage of these, which stood at 66.67%, was sixth in Ligue 1 in terms of players with at least five goals and was higher at that time than Lionel Messi (64.29%), Harry Kane (52.94%), Cristiano Ronaldo (50%) and Mbappe (50%). 

“I read a phrase a few days ago: ‘Men can lie, but numbers can’t’,” he explained earlier this season, clearly pleased with his form but determined to remain humble and true to what he sees as his roots. “However football sees me, I’m just a guy who tries his hardest. 

“Some people have told me to hold back and economise my efforts, but I’m going to continue to make the same runs and try to be just as efficient. I don’t want to change.”

Though a steady scorer in the past, his form this season has been elevated to previously untold levels. Indeed, in each of the previous two campaigns he has hit 12 goals – exactly the tally he finished up with at Nantes.

He put the improvement down to head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

“We speak the same language,” the striker, who has spent the last eight years in France after arriving to play in Bordeaux’s youth teams, said. “He was a great attacker with impressive statistics, and he’s given me some pointers. 

“With him, we’re playing more direct, with a solid defensive bloc and high pressure to help us attack more quickly. It’s giving us more chances.”

Sala’s entire professional career has been spent in France before completing his Cardiff move, with his upbringing in a football sense completed by Bordeaux, who he has been associated directly with since 2010. 

Initially he was sent out on loan to the lower levels of the game, showing his prowess as a marksman during the 2012-13 season at third-tier Orleans, when he notched 18 goals in 37 outings and then a year later one level up with Niort.

His rise at the top level, however, has been a slow one, with his reputation for industry surpassing that of his scoring, despite the fact he is now closing in on 50 Ligue 1 goals.

Indeed, Nantes signed him in July 2015 for around €2 million (£1.4m) and their patience with him is now set to pay off richly, 18 months before his contract expires.

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