Emiliano Sala was planning to learn English, explore the UK and work to meet the high standards of the Premier League before the plane crash which claimed his life, testimony from the player’s heartbroken mother revealed at his inquest on Tuesday.
Mercedes Taffarel’s testimony, read out to the jury in court, revealed that he had been conflicted about whether to leave French side Nantes for Cardiff City, because of the pressure and haggling for crash which preceded the deal.
‘Cardiff put a lot of pressure on him to complete the sale quickly but Nantes wanted more money and he felt in the middle of that. He felt in some doubt. Those weeks were intense,’ Ms Taffarel stated.
But having made the decision, ‘Emi’ – as his mother knew him – approached his new career with the optimism he had always shown in his life, she related.
Emiliano Sala was hoping to meet the high standards of the Premier League before his death ahead of his move to Cardiff, a testimony from his mother revealed today
Mercedes Taffarel (right, next to Sala in 2019) revealed her son was contemplating the move to Cardiff before the move
‘He was a young man with his whole life ahead of him, full of dreams for the future,’ Ms Taffarel said. ‘He was eager to learn about football in a league as important as the Premier League. He wanted to learn English and travel to the most important places in the United Kingdom as he loved travelling.’
Ms Taffarel’s words painted an intimate portrait of the way her eldest son had flourished in football despite great challenges in early life. He was born a month premature and after he experienced initial respiratory troubles, she was told by doctors that he might not be able to ‘run or make any physical effort.’
But when she took him, aged four, to a local sports club, San Martin de Progreso – simply because she was struggling to know what to do with such an energetic child – he flourished. He had arrived there with trainers because she couldn’t afford boots for him.
But he and football rapidly became a huge part of his life. With an initial absence of children to play football with, he enlisted his younger sister, Romina, who played in goal while he took penalties.
Sala was killed in a plane crash taking him from France to the UK to complete his transfer
Ms Taffarel’s testimony laid bare the conflicts of a mother not wanting extended of separation from a child, yet feeling she had to let him go.
‘One time he came to me and told me I had to let him go,’ said Ms Taffarel. ‘That if I didn’t, I would be killing him.’ Initially he left for a club 15 hours and 200km away, in Cordoba, then for a team with academy links to Bordeaux.
The eventual move to France, where FC Bordeaux signed him as a 20-year-old, brought even more separation. The family had no money to visit, though he would be home with them as soon as each season ended, his mother said, asking for her home cooking and watching local league games in their town near Santa Fe.
The Cardiff move came at a time when her son seemed to feel ‘calm’ and extremely at home in Nantes, who bought him from Bordeaux in 2015.
Sala’s mother revealed that the Cardiff move came at a time when her son (above) was calm
‘He adopted a dog from a local shelter which provide him with some company as he loved animals.’ Her son loved to read, watch TV series and listen to music, she said. ‘He really stood out for his human warmth. He was a very empathetic person. Very close to his teammates. He was very happy there.’
He died when his plane crashed after a last trip to Nantes to tidy up loose ends but when there was no contact from him on that fateful Sunday, his mother had no fears.
‘I’d spoken to him on the Saturday and he told me he had many issues (to sort out) in Nantes. When we didn’t hear from him, I thought he must have be exhausted when he arrived in Wales and fallen asleep.’
The family’s nightmare began at 6am on the Monday morning, when a phone call from Sala’s agent Meissa Ndiaye to Sala’s younger brother Dario – who was in court to hear the evidence on Tuesday – revealed that the plane had disappeared off the radar. The family arrived in England to face a fight simply to keep the search for the aircraft going.
Ms Taffarel (middle) revealed she travelled around the Channel Islands to try and find her son
Ms Taffarel related the devastating experience of travelling around the Channel Islands, wandering up and down beaches shouting out her son’s name, hoping that he might somehow hear his name.
She said: ‘We argued with the authorities but they didn’t want to keep searching. In very cold weather, we visited the Channel Islands, shouting Emi’s name, hoping to hear from him. It ended in pain. A pain that abides to this day.’
It was after a crowdfunding effort had allowed them to pay a private company to search that the wreckage was found off the coast of Guernsey, though the wreckage was not recovered.
The mother of Sala (left with Cardiff CEO Ken Choo) wants justice for her ‘peace of mind’
After initial post mortem investigations found carbon monoxide in her son’s blood, she pleaded for the plane wreckage to be recovered. But the time the family had enlisted a private firm to do that, the wreckage had been broken up and vanished.
Ms Taffarel said: ‘As a family, we were very upset by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch’s decision not to recover the wreckage. Nothing can bring Emi back, but we now ask for justice so we can have peace of mind and he can rest in peace.
The inquest continues.