NANTES, France, Feb 8 – Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic on Friday described news that his former player Emiliano Sala’s body had been formally identified as “awful” and “unfair”, almost three weeks after the Argentine striker’s plane disappeared over the English Channel.
“We had always maintained hope but we knew in the end that it was slim, almost an illusion,” said the 66-year-old former Japan coach, who had only worked with Sala for three months.
“For the family of Emiliano and the pilot it is just terrible,” added Halilhodzic, who broke down in tears as he spoke to reporters.
The Bosnian had been appointed by Nantes in October and had been hoping to keep Sala, who scored 12 league goals for the club in the first half of the season.
The player was eventually sold to Cardiff City last month for 17 million euros and had been on his way to Wales to begin training with his new club when he disappeared on January 21 near the British island of Guernsey.
The only other person on board was the aircraft’s 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson, who has not been found.
Nantes announced Friday that they would retire Sala’s old number nine jersey.
Halilhodzic said that Sala “will forever leave a mark on this club for the way he carried himself, his modesty, not just as a player but as a man. He was popular with everyone.
“You know, in football nowadays a lot of players are selfish, and only think of themselves…he was the opposite of that.”
The press conference was scheduled to be about Nantes’ Ligue 1 game against Nimes on Sunday before it emerged late on Friday that Sala’s body had been found.
Halilhodzic admitted that Sala’s old teammates would find it difficult to turn their thoughts back to playing football.
“Before training we will have a small ceremony, dignified and modest like he was. But whether we will be able to do any work is another matter.”
The Nantes coach also reacted angrily to a question about moves by the French club to ensure Cardiff pay the transfer fee for Sala.
“I don’t want to talk about that, stop that, it’s not my problem…To talk about money in these moments is disgusting,” he said.