Paris (AFP) – As searchers offered little hope on Wednesday of finding Emiliano Sala alive, some in football posed the first sensitive questions over insurance and the fee Cardiff had just agreed to pay for the Argentine striker. 

Sala signed with the Premier League club on Saturday from French Ligue 1 club Nantes for a reported 17 million euros ($19.3 million), and at the same time agreed a three-and-a-half year contract with his new club.

On Monday, the 28-year-old was a passenger in a private plane on its way to Wales, where he was due to attend a training session on Tuesday. 

However, the plane disappeared from radar around 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Guernsey on Monday night.

Fans in both Nantes and Cardiff held vigils for the player on Tuesday night but one question that faces both clubs, is who will pay the transfer fee, which represents a substantial amount of money for both clubs.

“The transfer contract is valid as soon as it is registered with FIFA,” Alexandra Cohen Jonathan, a lawyer and partner at the Paris firm August Debouzy, told AFP. 

“If this is the case, in principle Cardiff must pay the 17 million to Nantes even though the player has disappeared.”

According to a source close to FC Nantes, the deal had been finalised. 

“The contract was signed Saturday at 5pm and approved Monday,” said the source.

Broadly, big clubs take out two types of insurance to cover players. 

There is liability cover, against bodily injuries suffered by players which is attributable to the employer.

Then there is ‘key man’ insurance, originally designed to protect businesses from the sudden loss of important members of the company, which football clubs use to cover themselves in case they lose valuable squad members. It is based on transfer values.

“Nantes had certainly signed a contract of this type, but does this contract still apply when a transfer has already been signed?” asked Cohen Jonathan. “Have Cardiff already taken out this insurance? Had it already come into effect?” 

As for the liability insurance, that would only come into play “if one of the two clubs was the organiser of air transport,” said Cohen Jonathan, adding that this does not seem to be the case.  

— ‘…compensation, complete and full’ —

Cardiff president Mehmet Dalman said on Wednesday that the club had offered to arrange Sala’s trip but the attacker had opted to make “his own arrangements”.

In plane accidents, the carrier is responsible for compensation but the payout is normally capped at 100,000 euros, said Cohen Jonathan.

But that cap disappears “if you prove the air carrier is at fault,” the lawyer added. 

“In that case, the right to compensation is complete and full, that is to say that if the damage is 17 million, we have the right to the entire sum in compensation.”

The interested parties would need to prove the owner of the plane was to blame and, indeed, to establish who that is. 

Shortly before take off, Sala sent relatives a desperate message saying the plane looked like it was “going to fall apart”.

That message “will necessarily lead to an examination of the plane’s maintenance log” to try to establish a possible fault and the responsibility of the air carrier or, in case of the failure of a component, an equipment manufacturer in case of failure of a component, said the lawyer.

“In any case, someone will have to pay 17 million euros,” said Cohen Jonathan.