Emiliano Sala’s goalscoring exploits in France had attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs.
The 28-year-old’s ability to regularly find the back of the net for Ligue 1 mid-table side Nantes had attracted the attention of scouts.
By the autumn of 2018 the Argentina striker was being linked in newspaper reports to West Ham United and Crystal Palace.
But it was Premier League strugglers Cardiff City – needing a proven goal poacher for their fight against relegation – who signed Sala for £15 million in the January 2019 transfer window.
Having completed his medical and signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Welsh club, Sala returned to Nantes to say goodbye to his former teammates.
It was on the flight back to Cardiff that Sala died when the Piper Malibu single engine aircraft crashed into the English Channel, also killing pilot David Ibbotson.
His shock death led to an outpouring of grief across the footballing world.
Sala was born in 1990 and grew up in Argentina, the eldest of three, in the province of Sante Fe.
His father, Horacio, was a truck driver and mother, Mercedes, a housewife.
Having played football as a boy, Sala was spotted aged 15 by a scout from Argentina sports college Proyecto Crecer, which had links to French Ligue 1 team Bordeaux.
Sala’s mother Mercedes Taffarel said: “As the years passed, Emi’s love for football grew stronger. From quite early on he was very clear that he wanted to pursue a career as a professional player.
“I decided to accept the proposal of Proyecto Crecer to attend the college full-time with the real prospect of him travelling to France to follow his dream of playing top level football.
“This decision made him extremely happy because this was what he longed for the most. So, that was the way in which he began his journey in the world of football, when he was only 15 years old and more than 200 kilometres away from his town, his family and friends.”
Aged 20 he moved to France and signed for Bordeaux, where he played for the reserves.
He had loan spells at third tier Orleans, scoring 19 times in 37 matches, and Ligue 2 Niort, netting 18 goals in 37 games.
Sent out on loan again, this time to Ligue 1 club Caen, Sala scored five goals in 13 games, but his prowess caught the eye of top flight rivals Nantes and in 2015 he joined for around one million euros.
In three seasons at Nantes, he scored 42 goals in 120 games, and won the Ligue 1 player of the month.
Mrs Taffarel said: “In Nantes they liked him very much, he was an idol. Emiliano’s last season at the club was one of his best.
“He started as the top scorer in the French league, above very famous players such as Neymar, which made him feel very proud as he had worked hard every day to be able to achieve that.”
He felt that he was achieving his dream, after so many years of effort, as he had finally reached one of the most important leagues in the world, in which he had always desired to playMercedes Taffarel, Emiliano Sala’s mother
His performances on the pitch were also catching the attention of the Argentina national team, as well as Premier League clubs.
“Although he was a little afraid of the change, he felt that it was the right time to move clubs and to another league, and it seemed to him that Nantes’ management also pushed his exit from the club because they were going through some financial problems,” Mrs Taffarel said.
“Against the wishes of the coaching staff and the fans, Emi was sold to Cardiff, and he felt that he was achieving his dream, after so many years of effort, as he had finally reached one of the most important leagues in the world, in which he had always desired to play.”