Cardiff City have contacted other Premier League clubs in an attempt to establish whether there may be grounds to avoid paying the full £15million transfer fee being demanded by Nantes for Emiliano Sala.

According to The Mail on Sunday, letters sent in the past few days by lawyers acting for the club request help in ‘fighting off Nantes’ legal claim’, according to one source. They ask clubs for assistance in ‘sharing your knowledge of Sala as a player’. 

The correspondence from a Cardiff law firm describes Sala as ‘the player that Cardiff tried to sign’, phrasing, which makes it clear that the club believe they may not have to pay all — or indeed any — of the record transfer fee.

Details of the letters — which Cardiff on Saturday confirmed were sent — emerged as manager Neil Warnock and chief executive Ken Choo arrived in Argentina for the player’s wake and funeral.

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Cardiff’s decision to approach Premier League clubs publicly linked with Sala is partly motivated by transfer broker Willie McKay’s admission in an email to the striker that he had sought to artificially inflate the price. McKay told Sala he had told the media of rival interest ‘just to stimulate interest in you’.

Nantes football player Nicolas Pallois (left) carries the coffin together with Sala’s relatives

The club are seeking to establish whether there was indeed any interest at all from other clubs. McKay’s email to Sala listed Everton and West Ham as clubs he had linked the player to, though Crystal Palace, Fulham, Burnley and Wolves were also reported to be keen.

Dario Sala (centre) brother of Emiliano Sala and Horacio Sala, his father, carried Sala


January 21, 2019: The single-turbine engine Piper PA-46 Malibu leaves Nantes at 7.15pm for Cardiff and is flying at an altitude of 5,000ft. At 8.50pm the plane disappears from radar in the English Channel.

January 22: The French civil aviation authority confirms Argentinian footballer Emiliano Sala, 28, who had just signed for Cardiff City, was on board the light aircraft. Piloting the plane was David Ibbotson, from Crowle, near Scunthorpe.

January 24: Guernsey’s harbour master Captain David Barker says the chances Sala and Mr Ibbotson have survived is ‘extremely remote’.  

January 26: It emerges that football agent Willie McKay arranged for the flight to take Sala to Cardiff but he says he had no involvement in selecting the plane or pilot. He also backs calls for the search to continue.

January 27: Relatives and friends of Sala arrive in Guernsey, having enlisted the help of shipwreck hunting expert David Mearns. 

January 28: Sala’s family, including his mother Mercedes and sister Romina, take a chartered flight in a plane operated by Guernsey airline Aurigny over the area where the plane disappeared.

January 30: The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) says two seat cushions found washed up earlier in the week near Surtainville on the Cotentin Peninsula are likely to have come from the plane carrying Sala and his pilot.

February 3: Wreckage of the plane is located in a fresh, privately funded search which was made possible after a fundraising campaign saw more than £260,000 donated.

Feburary 4: A body is visible in seabed video footage of the wreckage of the plane. The AAIB says the footage was filmed using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) which was surveying the area after the plane was located.

February 6: A body seen in the wreckage of the plane is recovered. The AAIB says the body will be taken to Portland to be passed over to the Dorset coroner for examination.

The aircraft remains 67 metres underwater 21 miles off the coast of Guernsey. The AAIB says attempts to recover the aircraft wreckage were unsuccessful and, due to continued poor weather forecast, ‘the difficult decision was taken to bring the overall operation to a close’.

February 7: The Geo Ocean III search boat returns to dock in Portland, Dorset, carrying the wreckage of the Piper Malibu aircraft.

February 8: The body that was found in the wreckage was confirmed to be Sala’s.  

February 11: Post-mortem reveals Sala died from ‘head and trunk injuries’ after the plane he was in crashed. 

February 16: Sala’s funeral takes place in Argentina with Cardiff manager Neil Warnock among the guests.

The Mail on Sunday revealed two weeks ago that one club had been publicly linked to Sala simply on the basis of a text message being sent signalling the player’s availability.

A second club was bemused to receive the letter from Cardiff’s lawyers suggesting they had also been linked. ‘This simply isn’t true in our case,’ said a source. ‘We never had an interest in Sala. We didn’t even watch him play.’

But Sala is by no means the first player to have been transferred after being artificially linked with other clubs. This is one of the oldest tricks in the wheeler-dealer world of player acquisition. It is difficult to see how Cardiff can possibly cite this practice to avoid paying the first £5m tranche of the fee they had agreed with Nantes for the player.

Cardiff have said they will ‘do the right thing’ but have indicated they ‘first want full facts disclosed about what happened and the involvement of agents with Nantes in the deal’.

The number of brokers involved in the deal is also understood to have concerned them. Some at the top of the club only became aware of the number taking a cut after The Mail on Sunday report, which listed them. Cardiff want to establish what part each of those individuals played.

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