Nantes coach angry at decision to call off search for plane
Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic called it "a total disgrace" and "disgusting" that the search for the missing plane carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala was called off.
The search for Sala and the pilot of a small passenger plane going from Nantes to Cardiff on Monday was called off after a three-day air-and-sea operation near the Channel Islands failed to locate the aircraft. The plane disappeared from radar over the English Channel.
As high-profile soccer figures like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona joined calls for the search to resume, Halilhodzic expressed his anger when speaking at a news conference on Friday. The plane was last known to be flying near Hurd's Deep, an underwater valley which has a depth of more than 100 meters (328 feet).
"For me it's a disgrace to stop like this. I don't think it's enormously deep not to be able to find it. It's an obligation these people have," Halilhodzic said. "You can't just stay like this. It's a total disgrace. You can't leave it this way. To stop like this is unbearable and unacceptable. Can you imagine the family? Yesterday did you see how his sister expressed herself?"
Speaking in Cardiff on Thursday, Sala's sister Romina Sala said: "Please, please, I'm asking you — don't stop searching. They're alive."
A growing social media petition, including some Argentina players, has also asked for the search to go on.
Messi wrote on Instagram: "As long as there are still possibilities, a hint of hope, we ask you please continue to look for Emiliano."
Maradona also posted on Instagram pleading for the search to continue, with the message: "Hope never dies."
Halilhodzic repeated the request.
"I just have one message to those responsible, that they continue their search because it's disgusting to leave a situation like that," he said. "It's unbearable. I can't imagine how his family is taking this."
Halilhodzic was one of the best strikers in Nantes history with 111 goals, and fans voted the former Yugoslavia international into their best-ever team. Known as a strict disciplinarian, he admired Sala for his work ethic and constant desire to improve.
The player-coach partnership was paying off, too. Sala was enjoying the best season of his career before joining Cardiff, scoring 12 league goals in 19 games and cementing his high reputation among fans as a hard-working and unselfish player.
Halilhodzic was visibly moved as he spoke about Sala.
"I had a special relationship with this lad, because we spoke a lot together, worked a lot together," he said. "The last thing he said to me was he regretted we could no longer work together and that remains engraved deep in my heart."
He urged his team to win Sunday's French Cup game at Sannois Saint-Gratien.
"I think the players have an obligation to him to show character. We're all a bit shocked but you have to carry on living and moving forward," Halilhodzic said. "But we will never forget him. We all have a debt and the best way to thank him is to win."
But some players, who were particularly close to Sala, may not be ready to play.
"It's a difficult game, emotionally, on a human level," Halilhodzic said. "I will need to speak to two or three players on an individual level to see if they can play. This is more of a psychological, mental preparation than anything else."
For now, the club has not employed psychologists to help the players cope. But Halilhodzic said it was a viable option.
"I know that in certain situations like this people use them," he said. "It's difficult for me to judge the state of each player. If we need it, we can use this type of treatment."
Because of the grief around Sala's disappearance, Halilhodzic added, total unity is needed.
"I want us to stick together. If you see someone in distress you can help them, speak to them," he said. "I am asking everyone at the club to be even closer to the players, to talk together. I think this is the best way of getting through this."