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The €22 million Cardiff target outscoring Neymar and Cavani in France

Emiliano Sala has been on red-hot form in Ligue 1.

Emiliano Sala (file pic).
Emiliano Sala (file pic).

CARDIFF CITY ARE hopeful that Nantes striker Emiliano Sala will be the man to bring fresh impetus to their Premier League survival fight.

The Bluebirds lie 17th in the standings, just a single point ahead of Newcastle one place below and, with a considerably poorer goal difference than the Magpies, their place outside of the red zone is distinctly fragile.

Neil Warnock’s men have scored fewer than a goal-per-game this season and so, in spite of their manager saying “to hell with the rest of the world” regarding the Brexit debate at the weekend, he has been forced to turn to France in order to find a solution.

A fee of £20 million (€22m) has already been thrashed out with the mid-table Ligue 1 club and the 28-year-old forward has been in Wales to negotiate terms.

So, just why has the lanky Argentine been targeted as the man to fire Cardiff to safety?

What is Emiliano Sala’s style?

Goals, of course, are primarily the reason. Sala has been a man in hot form for Nantes this term, after coming so close to moving to Galatasaray in the summer.

At that point, he was out of favour with previous boss Miguel Cardoso, who wanted his team to play a technical brand of football, but once the Argentine hit a golden seam of form, the Portuguese was forced to reassess his position.

Sala’s goals were not enough the save the coach’s job, but he now stands alone in third place in the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 12 to his credit, ahead of the likes of Paris Saint-Germain duo Edinson Cavani and Neymar. Indeed, the only players better off than him are Kylian Mbappe, who leads the way on 14, and Nicolas Pepe, who has been linked with countless big sides since the beginning of the season.

He is not as glamorous a forward as either of the men who lie ahead of him. He is gangly and awkward looking, not particularly technically able, although he makes up for that with a tremendous spirit and determination.

“Frankly, I’m someone who’s really honest, and it doesn’t bother me at all,” he said earlier this term.

I’ve got my style, it’s my nature, I’m not going to change – I’m Argentine!

“Being on the field, giving everything for myself and maybe scoring a goal, and seeing a friend or a member of my family happy in the stands, that’s what makes me happy.”

His best work is done in the penalty box, where he forms the vanguard of Nantes’ attacking line and is noted for his particularly strong work in the air.

Despite his side’s relatively modest means, he has been the recipient of 12 big chances this season, according to Opta, and has scored eight.

Put into context, only five players in the league have been able to get into position for more such golden opportunities, while his conversion percentage of these, which stands at 66.67%, is sixth in Ligue 1 in terms of players with at least five goals and is higher than Lionel Messi (64.29%), Harry Kane (52.94%), Cristiano Ronaldo (50%) and Mbappe (50%).

“I read a phrase a few days ago: ‘Men can lie, but numbers can’t’,” he explained earlier this season, clearly pleased with his form but determined to remain humble and true to what he sees as his roots. “However football sees me, I’m just a guy who tries his hardest.

Some people have told me to hold back and economise my efforts, but I’m going to continue to make the same runs and try to be just as efficient. I don’t want to change.”

Though a steady scorer in the past, his form this season has been elevated to previously untold levels. Indeed, in each of the previous two campaigns he has hit 12 goals – exactly what he finds himself on now.

He puts the improvement down to head coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

“We speak the same language,” the striker, who has spent the last eight years in France after arriving to play in Bordeaux’s youth teams, said. “He was a great attacker with impressive statistics, and he’s given me some pointers.

“With him, we’re playing more direct, with a solid defensive block and high pressure to help us attack more quickly. It’s giving us more chances.”

What is Emiliano Sala’s record?

Sala’s entire professional career has been spent in France thus far, with his upbringing in a football sense completed by Bordeaux, who he has been associated directly with since 2010.

Initially, he was sent out on loan to the lower levels of the game, showing his prowess as a marksman during the 2012-13 season at third-tier Orleans, when he notched 18 goals in 37 outings and then a year later one level up with Niort.

His rise at the top level, however, has been a slow one, with his reputation for industry surpassing that of his scoring, despite the fact he is now closing in on 50 Ligue 1 goals.

Indeed, Nantes signed him in July 2015 for around €2 million (£1.4m) and their patience with him is now set to pay off richly, 18 months before his contract expires.

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