Top footballer Emiliano Sala felt pressured into a multi-million pound move to the Premier League shortly before he died in a plane crash on his way to his new club, an inquest has heard .
The Argentine-born striker was then joining Premier League club Cardiff City in a £15m transfer from Nantes to the French Ligue 1.
Dorset Coroner’s Court heard the 28-year-old was on a private plane flying from Nantes to Cardiff on the evening of January 21, 2019 when it crashed in the English Channel near Guernsey.
Pilot David Ibbotson, 59, was also killed but his body was never found.
On the first day of the inquest into the footballer’s death, his mother, Mercedes Taffarel, told the court that her son’s dream since childhood in Argentina was to become a professional footballer.
In a written statement, Ms Taffarel, who referred to her son as Emi, said his goalscoring exploits in France had led to calls for him to be called up to the Argentina national team.
“He really appreciated the Nantes club and the supporters,” she said.
“An offer arrived from Cardiff City in December 2018.
“It is true to say that Emi was very happy when he finally accepted the idea of moving because he had the chance to play in the Premier League.
“He felt it was the right time to change clubs and to another league.
“It seemed to him that the Nantes management was also pushing his exit from the club because they were going through some financial problems.
“Emi’s transfer was the most expensive in the club’s history and it also helped push through his transfer, even though the team coach didn’t want him to leave the club.
“These weeks from December 2018 to January 2019 seemed very intense.
“Cardiff put a lot of pressure on him to complete the sale quickly, but Nantes asked for more money and Emi felt in the middle of the argument.
“Emi was in doubt to go ahead with the move. Eventually the sale was made, not because of his performance as a player at Nantes, which was very good, but because Nantes needed the money. .
“Against the wishes of coaches and supporters, Emi was sold to Cardiff, and he felt he was fulfilling his dream.
“After many years of effort, he had finally reached one of the most important leagues in the world, which he always wanted to play.”
Ms Taffarel said she spoke to her son regularly and when she did not hear from him on the day of the flight she assumed he had gone to bed early after arriving in Wales.
The next day, she learns that the plane carrying her son has disappeared.
Eventually his family organized their own search at sea and the plane was located with Sala’s body inside.
“We had hope and it all ended in pain and the pain continues to this day,” she said.
“Emi was very young, with his whole life ahead of him with plans for the future, and he wanted to continue learning football in such an important league as the Premier League.”
She added: “Our lives changed forever on January 21, 2019 and now none of us are the same.
“No one can bring Emi back to us, but we ask for justice so that Emi can rest in peace and give us some peace of mind knowing that we have done everything we can to prevent similar deaths in the future. .
“Our pain will never go away and we carry it with us all the time. All we ask for is justice and we want to leave no stone unturned to find out what happened.
The inquest heard that Sala was scouted by a scout while playing in Argentina and signed by an academy linked to French top club FC Girondins de Bordeaux.
After moving to France, he signed his first professional contract with Bordeaux, before having several spells on loan with other clubs.
In July 2015 he joined Ligue 1 club Nantes and in December 2018 his goalscoring exploits caught the attention of then struggling Premier League side Cardiff City.
Dorset Senior Coroner Rachael Griffin told the inquest jury that the Piper Malibu plane left Nantes Airport at 7.15pm on January 21 for the flight to Cardiff but radar contact was lost near Guernsey at 8:15 p.m.
She said the plane was located on the seabed on February 3 and Sala’s body was found in the wreckage three days later.
Ms Griffin said the inquest will hear a range of evidence from witnesses, but the main issues to consider will be the flight arrangements, the condition of the plane and the cause of the crash.
Pathologist Dr Basil Purdue said forensic tests showed Sala had been overcome with carbon monoxide poisoning before the crash and was believed to have been ‘deeply unconscious’ at the time of impact with the sea.
He said tests showed a blood carbon monoxide saturation level of 58%, which he described as “serious poisoning”.
“The presence of carbon monoxide in significant quantities in an aircraft cabin implies a serious defect in the engine exhaust system,” he said.
“Given that the aircraft involved had only one cabin, it follows that the pilot would have been exposed to amounts of carbon monoxide similar to those found at Emiliano.”
Dr Purdue said Sala was still alive at the time of impact and died from serious head and chest injuries.
He added: “He died of injuries fully consistent with those that would be expected from a plane crash at high altitude in the sea.
“The nature of these injuries, particularly to the head, was overwhelming and would have resulted in instant death.”
The inquest, which is taking place at Bournemouth Town Hall, is expected to last around five weeks.