The full story of Cardiff City’s case against Nantes over Emiliano Sala can be told for the first time, with the Bluebirds adamant they should not be held responsible for the £15million transfer fee.
Details of Cardiff’s arguments could not be fully revealed while the Sala inquest was taking place.
But with the inquest jury having delivered its verdict on the Sala tragedy, some of the issues Cardiff are raising and the likely next steps can now be reported.
READ MORE: Emiliano Sala’s family issue new statement after inquest into Cardiff City striker’s death concludes
Cardiff have already presented their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, where independent judges will make a decision on the hugely sensitive matter.
That Lausanne hearing was held in private and as such full details are not available at this stage. CAS will make their findings public in due course, probably at some point this summer.
But our understanding of the matter, from speaking to individuals closely involved, is that Cardiff’s case centres largely around two strands.
1: Is the transfer fee due and 2: Were Nantes liable in any way for the accident?
The involvement of agent Willie McKay, and any work he may have done for the French club, is crucial as far as the Bluebirds are concerned.
FIFA originally ordered Cardiff to pay the first instalment of the £15m transfer fee agreed with Nantes to buy the Argentine striker during the 2018-19 Premier League campaign under Neil Warnock.
Cardiff’s then manager was firmly of the belief Sala would score the goals needed to keep the Bluebirds in the top flight. Cardiff appealed FIFA’s decision to a higher court and the case was heard over two days in Lausanne, before the Sala inquest had been concluded in Bournemouth.
Some critics have always argued Sala was a Cardiff player and they should simply pay up, but it is nowhere near as simple as that. Nothing demonstrates the complexity of the issue more than the fact that Cardiff have had 16 lawyers working for them on the case, Nantes 18.
Muddying the waters further is the fact that the case involves English, French and Swiss laws, with potentially different interpretations. Hence the army of lawyers.
Whose player was Sala
This is the key to everything – and the first strand of Cardiff’s case.
They had somewhat hastily announced Sala as their signing on a Saturday night, partly to mitigate against a 3-0 defeat to Newcastle a couple of hours earlier and give the fans something to cheer about. However, it should be emphasised Cardiff did state unequivocally that the transfer was subject to the usual clearance from the football authorities.
For a transfer to be concluded, a number of conditions need to be met. One of those is the International Transfer Certificate. As a regulated club, Cardiff would require that clearance to be given by the Football Association of Wales.
Our understanding is that certificate had been granted by the FAW by the time of the Sala tragedy at the beginning of the following week. It is thought to be under that regulation being fulfilled that FIFA sided with Nantes at their original hearing into the matter, the ruling the Bluebirds are asking CAS to overturn.
However, we understand there were two other conditions to the transfer which Cardiff maintain had not been completed and thus they argue Sala was still officially a Nantes player at the time of the accident.
One centred around his signing on fee and registration to play in the Premier League. Cardiff contend this paperwork had not been completed correctly and Sala needed to sign new forms upon his arrival back in the UK. Without signing those forms, he was not eligible for Premier League football.
The new forms, of course, were never signed. Tragically.
Cardiff also contend that under French law, which is quite specific on these matters, Sala’s contract with Nantes had not been terminated. This is important because FIFA rules dictate you cannot be employed by two clubs.
These are two technical issues, but nonetheless significant ones as far as Cardiff are concerned. They argue strongly that at the time of the accident, Sala was still registered with Nantes because two of the key conditions set out to complete a transfer from one club to another had not been finalised.
FIFA decide on football matters, but Cardiff want CAS to adjudicate on the legal side of the whole issue, with their claim French law should hold sway here.
Nantes, of course, deny this. Hence the stand-off.
If things go against Cardiff
If CAS back FIFA’s decision and rule in favour of Nantes, we understand it is unlikely to be the end of the matter.
Strand two of Cardiff’s case centres around the possibility of suing Nantes for damages and whether CAS have the power to adjudicate on that. Cardiff say yes, Nantes say no.
Evidence which came out at the inquest could be used as part of any future claim. Cardiff could also opt to sue in the French courts.
It is unclear what sum of money we are talking about here. However, Cardiff were of the belief that Sala’s goals would have kept them in the Premier League that year, with the multi-millions that would have brought.
Cardiff finished 18th out of 20 in the table, just two points behind Brighton who stayed up. Key goals from Sala at key times might have made the difference. However, it could prove a hard argument to make as there are no guarantees as to what may have happened.
Nonetheless, the Bluebirds hierarchy feel strongly on the whole matter and owner Vincent Tan seems certain to up the stakes further if necessary to ensure what he sees as getting justice for Cardiff City.
The issue of how the doomed flight was arranged would be central to everything.
There are also thought to be issues over insurance because Sala was not officially a Cardiff player at the time.
The men sitting in judgement and next step
A 3-man arbitration panel have heard the CAS case. It is headed up by Professor Ulrich Hass, a 58-year-old sport law specialist who has previously adjudicated on controversial issues arising from the Olympics and Formula One.
A provision of £21m was mentioned in previous Cardiff City accounts to cover the Sala costs, but with the club also emphasising they didn’t think it would be payable. There is a difference, however, between that sum being on the balance sheet for technical and governance purposes and Tan actually needing to suddenly find the money.
If CAS order Cardiff to pay the transfer fee, the Bluebirds would need to arrange an instalments package.
But, as we say, there is a significant second strand to this which would involve pursuing further action through the French courts.
If CAS rule in Cardiff’s favour, they could still opt to explore strand two of their case with a damages claim
The likelihood, however, is that they would let the matter rest.