Sala tragedy shines light on transfer that saw him leave Nantes to join Cardiff – a deal deeply rooted in long friendship between Warnock and agent pal McKay
A FORTNIGHT on from striker Emiliano Sala’s disappearance, the stress and strain of carrying Cardiff’s good name through this tragedy is getting to Neil Warnock.
A specialist team were yesterday working to bring up a body from the wreckage of Sala’s plane in the Channel.
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock has been emotionally affected in football like he never has before following the disappearance of Emiliano Sala
At the same time Cardiff were fearing their manager will carry out his threat to walk away.
Sala’s apparent death has shone a light on the transfer that saw him leave Nantes to join a side scrapping for Premier League survival — a deal deeply rooted in a long friendship between Warnock and the agent Willie McKay.
As soon as McKay had the transfer mandate in his hand, he knew just the man to do business with.
Warnock, his old mucker, was desperate for a goalscorer to take Cardiff away from relegation danger.
The disappearance of Emiliano Sala, who Neil Warnock got to know before signing him, has left Cardiff City players, fans and management in torment
Willie McKay has had a long friendship with Neil Warnock and that helped set up the signing of Emiliano Sala from Nantes
The Bluebirds boss is big pals with McKay, cementing their relationship in 2011 when he pulled the strings as manager of QPR.
Warnock signed Joey Barton on a free from Newcastle, handing him a four-year contract worth a staggering £90,000 a week.
The sums were so vast for a struggling Prem club it needed the intervention of owner Tony Fernandes to sign it off.
McKay has always denied raking in £1.3m to broker Barton’s move to Loftus Road.
Even so, he did very well out of it.
The McKay family has been working with Warnock more recently, establishing a relationship with his latest club after taking Sol Bamba to Cardiff in October 2016.
Willie’s son Mark is named on the official documentation lodged with the FA.
ExCel Foot, where Mark was a director, has since gone into liquidation. That has not prevented the family trading again in football.
The men are even closer after Warnock saw enough potential in Willie’s young son Jack McKay, after a short trial period at Cardiff, to offer the striker a 2½-year deal.
Former club Nantes and Cardiff held emotional tributes to tragic Emiliano Sala
Jack’s contract with Leeds had just been cancelled — and those who have watched him play claim he has no chance of a career in the Prem.
The McKay family became even more closely entwined in this tragedy when Jack, who abruptly left Cardiff to join Chesterfield on loan last week, messaged Sala to say dad Willie would provide him with a private plane to fly him to Wales.
That turned out to be the single-engine Piper Malibu that crashed near Guernsey on January 21.
The suitability of the aircraft in difficult weather has been questioned by experts.
Sala’s £15m transfer fee is also under scrutiny — because it started to rocket after McKay planted fictitious stories in the media about interest from Everton and West Ham.
Nantes fans have been recognising Emiliano Sala, who disappeared two weeks agoAFP or licensors
Speculation in France, picked up by UK websites, created a market for the forward that did not exist.
It was designed to put pressure on Cardiff CEO Ken Choo and chairman Mehmet Dalman to get the deal done.
The bigger the fee, the bigger the slice of the pie for Family McKay.
There was an added complication because Nantes had to honour a 50 per cent sell-on clause due to Sala’s former club Bordeaux.
Neil Warnock showed how high his emotions are by swearing in an interviewPA:Press Association
In an attempt to mitigate the amount they would have to pass on, Cardiff offered a player-exchange to cut the fee — but Nantes said they wanted straight cash.
After a run of good results, Warnock was in a powerful position, urging Cardiff to sign the man who could solve their goalscoring problems.
Cardiff announced Sala’s signing on January 19, with Warnock claiming the Argentinian’s character made him “a manager’s player”.
Warnock is still coming to terms with the air crash. He has talked of how, in a short time, he became close to the player.
Warnock left the field in tears on Saturday, struggling to make sense of it all after Cardiff beat Bournemouth 2-0.
Minutes later, in an emotional outburst to a TV camera, he told Gary Lineker to “f*** off” after the Match of the Day star made fun of his nickname “Colin”.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Sala’s body is retrieved from the ocean floor, a funeral will take place in Argentina.
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Warnock and club officials will be expected to travel to South America.
Willie McKay and son Mark — the two men who helped this deal materialise — will also need to pay their respects.
The two friends are likely to stand together to remember a likeable young footballer whose life was cut tragically short.