French football club Nantes have accused Cardiff City of attempting to exploit the death of Emiliano Sala after the Championship side called on authorities to launch a criminal investigation into his tragic plane crash that occurred last year.
Sala died after the light aircraft carrying him and pilot David Ibbotson crashed into the English Channel on 21 January 2019. Sala’s body was discovered in the wreckage on 3 February after extensive searches, but Ibbotson remains missing.
Following the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, an article that featured in French newspaper L’Equipe claimed that both Nantes owner Waldemar Kita and Sala’s agent Willie McKay were central to any possible investigation, which prompted a response from Cardiff City in support of criminal action.
The Welsh club said that a full investigation was needed to determine not only why the aircraft crashed into the water near the island of Guernsey, but also why the footballer was travelling alone in a small Piper Malibu aeroplane that has since proven to have been an illegal flight due to the pilot’s licensing, as well as the role of intermediaries within the sport on a wider scale.
But Nantes have issued a stern rebuke of Cardiff’s calls and said that they are “absolutely stunned” by what they see as Cardiff’s latest in a line of attempts to try and look after their own back.
"FC Nantes are absolutely stunned by Cardiff's umpteenth attempt to exploit this tragedy,” an FC Nantes statement read.
"FC Nantes has always shown a very quiet attitude since the beginning of these events. FC Nantes has always acted in good faith, while Cardiff has made repeated attempts to destabilise public opinion with falsehoods.
"What clearly appears to be a media offensive is so inappropriate as we just paid our respect to Emiliano Sala a few days ago, and one day before the submission of Cardiff's memory deposit before the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
The two clubs have been involved in a bitter dispute over transfer fees following the £15m sale for Sala to join Cardiff, which was agreed two days before his tragic death. The British club have claimed that the 31-year-old was not officially their player when he died, and although they were ordered last September by the Fifa players’ status committee to pay Nantes the first instalment of £5.2m, the Bluebirds have appealed against the ruling to take the case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport this summer.
In calling for a criminal investigation last week, a Cardiff City spokesperson said: “CCFC has been clear throughout the past 12 months that a full investigation of the facts leading up to the tragedy is required.
"Not only to fully understand what led to the downing of the Piper PA-46 Malibu plane, but to answer the wider questions that have been highlighted in this case, specifically related to the use of illegal flights in the football industry and the role of intermediaries in player transfers.
"As a result of our investigation we believe there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing that necessitates investigation by the French authorities of those responsible for the arrangement of the transfer on behalf of FC Nantes and for arranging the doomed flight.
"We have therefore passed over information to the Parquet de Nantes to assist their efforts. We remain committed to establishing the full facts and adhering to any final decision on our financial liability in the transfer."