Nantes fans paid an emotional tribute to Emiliano Sala before today's home game against Bordeaux, a year after the Argentine striker's death in a plane crash shook the soccer world.
Sala died after the single-engine aircraft carrying him from Nantes to his new club Cardiff crashed near the Channel Island of Guernsey on January 21 last year. His body was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later. He was 28-years-old and entering his prime years as a striker. The pilot, David Ibbotson, also died.
A giant picture of Sala was displayed on the centre circle before the French league game at Stade de la Beaujoire and footage of him playing in the traditional yellow and green of Nantes was shown on a giant screen to gentle background music. Fans looked on in respectful silence, some holding up jerseys with Sala's name on the back.
Fans then broke out into chants of “Emiliano Sala, Emiliano, Emiliano, Emiliano Sala" and clapped along to the refrain. Just before kickoff a minute's applause was held as a giant picture of Sala's face was shown on the screen.
After nine minutes of the game, the crowd chanted Sala's name at length. Sala wore the No. 9 shirt for Nantes with great pride, and the number has since been retired by the club.
Nantes players wore a special blue and white jersey in the colours of Argentina's national team for the game against Bordeaux, the club where Sala started his career after coming to France 10 years ago after doing well at the Proyecto Crecer youth academy in San Francisco, Argentina.
Nantes said profits made from selling the commemorative blue and white outfit will be allocated to Sala's former clubs in Argentina.
Bordeaux won the game 1-0 with veteran forward Jimmy Briand scoring with a low volley from just inside the penalty area. Nantes had its Brazilian midfielder Andrei Girotto sent off early in the second half for a second yellow card. Nantes is in sixth place and Bordeaux is 10th.
The fans chanted Sala's name again for several minutes near the end of the game.
"He’s still in our thoughts," Nantes captain Abdoulaye Touré said. "We wanted to win this match for him but we didn’t manage to."
It was at Nantes where Sala made his name, netting 48 goals in 133 games and becoming a fan favourite because of his hard work and unselfishness.
His imposing stature, heading prowess and ability to play back to goal prompted Cardiff - which was then in the Premier League - to agree a club-record 17 million euros (NZD$28.3 million) to sign him.
Hours before the plane crash, FIFA had received an online document from the Welsh soccer federation to complete transferring the player's registration from France.
Since Sala's death, Nantes and Cardiff have been involved in a dispute over transfer fee payments. Last year, Cardiff filed a court appeal seeking to overturn a FIFA order that it must pay Nantes a 6 million euro (NZD$10 million) first payment for Sala. FIFA ruled in favour of Nantes and warned Cardiff it faces a transfer ban of three trading windows if it refuses to pay when the case is settled.