Former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock reveals heartbreaking last conversation with Emiliano Sala
An emotional Neil Warnock has opened up on his ‘most difficult week in football’ following the disappearance of Cardiff striker Emiliano Sala.
Warnock even questioned his own future as Cardiff manager following the disappearance of the plane carrying the club's striker last Monday and revealed that he had made similar cross-Channel trips with pilot David Ibbotson.
Sala, who was signed by Cardiff for £15million from Nantes only two days before his disappearance, and Ibbotson remain missing, with fundraisers having paid for a private exploration in the English Channel after the official search was called off last Thursday.
Last week, Sheffield Wednesday forward and countryman Fernando Forestieri recorded a heartbreaking message urging rescue workers not to give up on the search for Sala.
Speaking to the media on Monday for the first time since Sala's disappearance, Warnock said that it had been "by far the most difficult week" of his 40-year career in football management.
"You think 24 hours a day about whether to carry on," said Warnock, speaking as Sala's relatives and friends went on a special flight to view the area where the plane he was in disappeared over the English Channel.
"It would be true to say that, even as I sit here now.
"In an ideal world I don't think I'd like another game at all. That's how I feel at the minute.
"It's been a traumatic week and even now I can't get my head around the situation.
"It's impossible to sleep. I've been in football management for 40 years and it's by far the most difficult week in my career, by an absolute mile.
"It's probably hit me me harder than anyone else as I've met the lad and talked to him for the last six to eight weeks."
Warnock had identified Sala, who had scored 13 goals for Ligue 1 Nantes this season, as the striker to spearhead Cardiff's Premier League relegation battle in the second half of the campaign.
The 70-year-old had crossed the Channel twice in recent weeks to watch Sala before Cardiff agreed a club-record fee for the 28-year-old Argentinian.
"I'd been on a couple of planes like that," Warnock said, responding to a question whether he had flown on the single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu aircraft.
"I think the ones I'd been on might have had two engines.
"But I'd been over the top to Nantes a couple of times and I do think I had that pilot, who I thought was a fabulous pilot. So I just can't comprehend it."
Warnock revealed that he had invited Sala to watch Cardiff's Premier League game at Newcastle on Saturday January 19, the day after he had undertaken his medical in the Welsh capital.
But Sala chose to return to France to gather his belongings and bid his final farewells to his Nantes team-mates ahead of his first training session at Cardiff on the Tuesday.
"From my point of view, I have thought many a time 'should I have insisted he came up to Newcastle?'" Warnock said ahead of Cardiff's return to Premier League action on Tuesday.
"He came to the training ground halfway through his medical on the Friday as we were preparing (for Newcastle).
"Looking at the gear he was wearing I said 'you'll fit in very well with my team'. He had holes everywhere in his trousers and looked like a tramp, we've got a few like that.
"That's the memory I'll have because we had a laugh. He said 'I'll score you the goals' and I said 'I know you will'.
"I think everyone is right after the event. Everybody wishes they could have done this or done that.
"I don't get involved with any of that, but I'm sure that over the next few months things will be investigated in great detail.
Warnock revealed that the League Managers' Association had offered him support in the wake of Sala's disappearance.
Several Cardiff players have also spoken to psychologists, with Warnock admitting that "three or four of the lads have been really poor".
On seeking counselling, Warnock - who supported the Sala family's determination to have the search resumed after more than £290,000 was raised through gofundme donations - said: "You have to in this instance. Who motivates the motivator?
"I am OK when I'm in the public eye or with the players, it's when I'm on my own or at home that I think about it.
"It'a probably the lads you don't expect that needed more help.
"But I don't think it does any harm to talk to anyone else. It's been noticeable that three of four lads have been really poor."