Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic admitted the disappearance of striker Emiliano Sala, whose plane came down in the English Channel, had left him “completely shocked” while fans said on Thursday they felt as if they had lost “someone from our own family”.
Emiliano Sala had been on his way from the French club to Wales on Monday night where he was due to start a new period in his career with Premier League Cardiff City.
Police said on Thursday that the chances of finding the 28-year-old Argentine alive were “extremely remote” as they announced they were ending their search.
“I had a particular relationship with him because from the moment of my arrival we talked a lot. I spoke with him…..” said veteran coach Halilhodzic who started to weep before composing himself enough to continue.
His voice still trembled as he added: “For me, it is perhaps the most difficult moment of my sporting life. I have known others but in terms of sport, this has left me completely shocked.”
Sala had been at Nantes since 2015 and had scored 12 league goals this season before signing a three-and-a-half-year deal with relegation-threatened Cardiff in a reported 17 million Euro ($19.3 million) deal.
At Nantes’ training centre at La Chapelle-sur-Erdre in western France, the squad and staff met with fans who had gathered to pay their respects.
“Keep hoping,” said one poster which contained a picture of Sala and was pinned to the fence of the training centre.
Flowers and candles were also laid out as fans, numbed by Sala’s disappearance, held an emotional vigil for their former player.
“We know that he is lost, but there remains a small corner of hope that still exists,” 29-year-old Maxime Perrouin told AFP.