sport news Emiliano Sala was the pawn in a sordid transfer that shames football

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A text message listing Emiliano Sala and several other players for hire pinged into the phone of a Premier League club's technical director just before Christmas. 

The January transfer window was approaching, clubs were getting desperate, and Willie McKay was busy touting his wares.

On his menu of France-based offerings were Adrien Tameze, Nice's Cameroon midfielder, and Maxwel Cornet, the Ivorian forward at Lyon, as well as Sala — who Cardiff City imagined might be theirs by then. 

Tributes have been pouring in for Emiliano Sala, whose plane went missing over the Channel

Tributes have been pouring in for Emiliano Sala, whose plane went missing over the Channel

Cardiff City players trained before their match against Bournemouth in Emiliano Sala clothes

Cardiff City players trained before their match against Bournemouth in Emiliano Sala clothes

There were some deft touches in the McKay text, designed to protect against it being ignored. Watford were already trying to buy Tameze, he mentioned in passing. As things turned out, that player stayed put. So did Cornet.

The recipient — whose club lie in the bottom third of the table — replied with his standard response, asking McKay to put his information on an email, though he wasn't interested.

'Sala was being pumped around to all of us,' he says. 'We had the same scouting reports on him that most clubs would have, based on matches going back to 2017. They were good but he was not near the top of our list.' 

The club in question still found themselves being publicly linked to Sala. It was McKay in full flow. The 59-year-old's modus operandi was laid bare last week, when he surprisingly revealed to L'Equipe an emailed sales pitch he had sent to Sala, revealing that he had deliberately spread misinformation about West Ham and Everton wanting to sign him to whip up interest. 

'We have talked to all the clubs, including Manchester, Chelsea, Liverpool. We think you could end up in such clubs,' he told the player. Not true. 'We make transfers!... Didier Drogba,' he wrote. Not true. 'Keep me away from these lies,' Drogba promptly retorted.

Willie McKay revealed details on a sales pitch made during the Emiliano Sala deal to Cardiff

Willie McKay revealed details on a sales pitch made during the Emiliano Sala deal to Cardiff

After scoring Cardiff's first goal of the match, Bobby Reid ran to display one of the Sala shirts

After scoring Cardiff's first goal of the match, Bobby Reid ran to display one of the Sala shirts

Few transfer market brokers are as relentless in their selling as McKay, Harry Redknapp's one-time go-to man. 'He's like a dog with a bone,' says one technical director.

Another source involved in acquisition for several top Premier League clubs describes receiving calls from McKay but becoming mildly irritated by him always seeming to be poolside at his one-time Monaco home when making them.

Some can't live with him, yet most clubs can't live without him, either because they are pathologically incapable of putting adequate systems in place to acquire players intelligently, or because they simply need his copious contacts to get them out of a fix. 

Sources in France still marvel at how, when £70,000-a-week Joey Barton was banned for 12 matches and not cooperating at QPR, McKay worked his contacts to shift the player out on loan to Marseille in 2012.

There was something particularly noxious about the Sala sale, though, and not only because of the way this narrative would unfold. Where the Argentinian was concerned, even though no footballing rules appear to have been broken, everyone wanted a slice of the pie.

The Nantes owner, Waldemar Kita, most of all. His club were rooted in the bottom half of France's Ligue 1 as usual and he was in a hurry to cash in on a player who was scoring goals and out of contract in 18 months. Kita gave the McKays' company the mandate to find a buyer, in return for 10 per cent of the fee.

The player's agent Meissa NDiaye would also be getting a slice. NDiaye already had a player at Cardiff — Sol Bamba — yet somehow the McKays still got in on things. 

Another agent, Babe Drame, who declared on Instagram that he and McKay's son Mark had done the deal when Sala eventually joined Cardiff, capitalised too. (McKay jnr is the registered agent because McKay snr opted not to sit the exams imposed by UEFA.)

Nantes owner, Waldemar Kita, was in a hurry to cash in on a player who was scoring goals

Nantes owner, Waldemar Kita, was in a hurry to cash in on a player who was scoring goals

Both Cardiff City and Bournemouth's players and fans observed a moment of reflection

Both Cardiff City and Bournemouth's players and fans observed a moment of reflection

Bakary Sanogo, who is close to Kita and agent to Tottenham's Moussa Sissoko among others, also took commission from the deal, for reasons which remain unclear.

The player in question had no idea that such strenuous and complex sales efforts were going on to shift him out of the club and seems to have had no say in the matter, given that he did not initially want to leave Nantes for Cardiff at all.

Sala had become intimately bound up in French life and its football since leaving his home in Argentina, aged 15, for a development academy with links to Bordeaux. He initially struggled to make his way in France, though Nantes was where he began to establish a sense of self.

He loved Carquefou, the charming town north-east of Nantes which he made home. He could let his labrador rescue dog, Nala, off the lead on the fields of the farm behind his house. He liked to walk through the small vineyard across the road where they make Muscadet and cross the streams running off from the Erdre river, where visitors could fish for pike.

He bought veal Milanese from the local butchers' twice a week, cigarettes from the local tabac. Feuillantine was his favourite delicacy from the bakery. The local barber, Jean-Philippe Roussel, who he visited for a cut every third week, became a friend.

However it was up at Nantes' Stade de la Beaujoire that his modestly developing confidence was best witnessed. When he arrived at the club from Bordeaux, in July 2015, he was quiet and self-effacing with very modest French, though by last season he was confident enough to appear at the pre-match press conferences, which usually involve a player and the manager.

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A picture of the type of plane which was supposed to deliver Emiliano Sala to Cardiff safely

A picture of the type of plane which was supposed to deliver Emiliano Sala to Cardiff safely

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