Emiliano Sala death: Nantes players wear all black in tribute to former player

Adam Arnold, news reporter

French football club Nantes have paid tribute to former player Emiliano Sala ahead of their match against Nimes.

The 28-year-old, who was at Nantes for four seasons, died last month in a plane crash in the English Channel.

In the stadium, the Ligue 1 players wore an all black kit with the name Sala on their back of their shirts.

Fans also held up black and white banners containing his name, as well as his yellow No 9 shirt with the words Merci Sala on the back.

Nantes have retired their No 9 shirt in honour of the footballer who died after his aircraft crashed 21 miles (34km) off the coast of Guernsey.

Players and coaching staff from both sides joined the fans in applauding and cheering in memory of the Argentine. In the match, Nantes lost 4-2.

On Friday, Nantes manager Vahid Halihodzic was in tears as he told reporters he had a "special relationship" with the striker.

"He loved the club. He loved football. We will remember him forever," he said.

"I have a lot of affection for my players as a coach. Working with him was a real pleasure".

"I lived with him for three or four months and everybody loved him, they adored him.

"I was a No 9. He was an extraordinary No 9."

Sala had been flying from Nantes in western France on 21 January to make his debut for new club Cardiff when the single-engined Piper Malibu aircraft he was travelling in disappeared over the Channel.

The wreckage was found last Sunday following a privately-funded underwater search.

Sala's body has been pulled from the stricken aircraft but attempts to recover the wreckage itself have so far been unsuccessful.

The pilot of the plane, David Ibbotson, is still missing and presumed dead.

French World Cup winner and Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe has donated £27,000 to help search for Mr Ibbotson.

And former England and Tottenham player Gary Lineker has given £1,000 to the GoFundMe page set up by the pilot's family.

Sala had joined the Premier League side for a club-record fee of £15m from Nantes two days before the tragedy.

Sky sources say Nantes have now started legal action against Cardiff , asking for the first payment of the transfer fee, which is understood to be more than £5m.

Cardiff have not yet paid any of the fee for the striker and privately believe questions first need answering about the ownership of the aircraft and other issues.

Meanwhile, police have spoken to two Southampton supporters after video emerged of two men appearing to mock Sala's death as they made aeroplane gestures at Cardiff City fans.

Following Southampton's 2-1 defeat, the club said they were taking "an extremely firm stance" over the incident, which took place during the game.

Saturday's Premier League fixture, which saw a minute's silence observed before kick-off, marked the first time Cardiff have been in action since his body was recovered from plane wreckage.