By Daniel Bevan
When the January transfer window ended, it signaled the end of possibly the darkest month in the history of Cardiff City Football Club.
New record signing Emiliano Sala was due to join his new teammates on January the 21st, but just twelve hours before his first training session was due to begin, Sala was involved in a plane crash over the English Channel that claimed his life, and that of the plane’s pilot, David Ibbotson.
Both Sala and Ibbotson, were presumed dead before the week would end, and the crash site was found thirteen days after going missing, along with the body of the Argentine striker.
The signing of the Argentinian was the hope that all Cardiff fans craved as their side were bolted to the relegation zone. His goal record was impeccable, one of the best in Europe, and by all accounts he was a massive coup for Cardiff City.
The pairs plane left Nantes Airport at 7:45pm but just halfway through the short flight, air traffic control lost contact with the Piper Malibu aircraft, when it was at less than half of its expected altitude of 5,000 ft.
The flight was arranged by agent Willie McKay, despite officials from Cardiff City offering travel for the player. Cardiff City will now wait until the end of the investigation into the crash to determine when they will pay their first of three £5 million installments to Nantes.
Chairman of Cardiff City, Mehmet Dalman, has said that if the club are liable for the payment then they will pay it and since then it has been reported that the club are seeking legal advice from the Premier League clubs that were allegedly interested in signing Sala.
But while tensions have been rising behind the scenes, life for the players, staff and fans must go on. On the pitch, you might be forgiven for forgetting anything had happened.
Since the tragedy, Cardiff have seen a remarkable upturn in form, starting with arguably one of their best performances of the season, away to Arsenal despite losing 2-1. They then followed that up with back to back wins – the first time they’d achieved this in the Premier League.
Although a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Watford wasn’t quite the carry-on in form that the fans were hoping for, Southampton’s 2-0 loss to Arsenal meant that with eleven games left of the season, the Bluebirds were out of the bottom three.
Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock called the last week of January the ‘most difficult week’ of his career, a statement that shows just how rare an event like this is in football, considering his forty years in management.
When asked about his players, Warnock admitted that many of them were having a hard time coping with the incident, especially the younger members of the squad.
As for the fans, how do you comprehend such a tragedy happening to the club that you hold so close to your heart? Well in all honesty – you can’t.
When Leicester City owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter crash along with four other passengers, in November. City fans were a credit to themselves and others when they showed complete respect in the first game following the disaster, by raising a banner to remember the Leicester owner, at the Cardiff City Stadium
You never imagine a disaster of this magnitude will ever happen at your club, nor do you ever wish it on anyone else’s. It really is the unthinkable. Yet in times like these club divisions are forgotten for a moment, and the support showed to the club from all over the world was more than a little overwhelming.
You only needed to take one look at the memorial that was set up in front of the Fred Keenor Statue at the Cardiff City Stadium to see the number of clubs that were represented showing the scale of the tributes that poured in from across the world.
The fundraisers that were set up for the individual searches for Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson collectively raised more than £500,000, with donations coming from thousands of people from all walks of life, including many footballers. Most notably PSG striker and France international Kylian Mbappé who donated €30,000 to each search.
Even the controversial owner of Cardiff City, Vincent Tan, who has very much taken a backseat with the club in recent years, donated £50,000 to Ibbotson’s search fund after Sala’s body had been recovered.
Ibbotson’s body still hasn’t been found and the search called off.
Although there is much uncertainty scattered around this tragedy and it may take months to fully understand the accident, there is one thing that is inevitable – even though Emiliano Sala never put on a Cardiff City shirt, he will forever be in the memories of Bluebirds’ fans and without a doubt go down as a legend of the club.