Argentina, Feb. 17 — Thousands of mourners gathered in the northern Argentine town of Progreso on Saturday to pay their respects to late footballer Emiliano Sala.
A public service was held at the gymnasium of Sala’s boyhood club, San Martin de Progreso, before a private ceremony later in the evening. His body was then cremated.
Sala died when the single-engine plane in which he was traveling crashed in the English Channel near Alderney on January 21.
The 28-year-old striker had completed a 19 million US-dollar transfer from Nantes to Cardiff City two days earlier. Pilot David Ibbotson, 59, also died in the crash.
Sala’s body was recovered from the underwater wreckage on February 7 but Ibbotson has yet to be found.
The funeral’s attendees included Sala’s former Nantes teammate Nicolas Pallois, who was one of the pallbearers, and the French club’s general secretary Loic Morin.
Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock and the Premier League side’s CEO Ken Choo were also present.
Many of the town’s 3,500 residents, some wearing football shirts with Sala’s name, were among those to say goodbye. A banner outside the gymnasium read: “Emi, you will never walk alone.”
San Martin de Progreso president Daniel Rivero described Sala’s death as “the saddest moment of the history of our town.”
“I would have liked to do an interview because Emiliano was called up to the national team or because of his great form in the Premier League, but this is the reality, and we have to accept it.”
“Emi was a very introverted and quiet boy. He never forgot his origins. He left a legacy of humility and sacrifice, not only in sports but also in life. He always said he was going to be a professional soccer player and he worked for that, he persevered, and he did it, he made his way alone. We will always carry it in our hearts.”
Cardiff City manager Warnock said: “It’s been very difficult for everyone but none more so than for [Sala’s mother] Mercedes, [sister] Romina and the brother.”
“You can’t really understand the emotions of the family, but the thing today is how united they all are. The whole village is really united, and I think it just brings it home to you just how important family are.”