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Gareth Bale & China: Why one option can lead back to Europe (& Inter Milan)

COMMENT: He may not be feeling it at the moment, but there's actually a lot of support out there for Gareth Bale. And significantly, from people long connected to Real Madrid...

As a footballer. For all his achieved. And for his age. Bale is being urged by many inside Spanish football not to quit Europe. Yes, his time with Real Madrid has come to an end. Zinedine Zidane made sure of that in Houston on Sunday. Even his most fervent supporters in the press, the opinion makers of both Marca and AS in Madrid, branding the Real coach's words as "brutal" even "crude".

Zidane tried walking it back yesterday, insisting he was prepared to work with Bale "whatever happens". But no matter the excuses about his Spanish, he left no-one in doubt about the situation after defeat to Bayern Munich.

He didn't get his wish that Bale would be gone "in 24 or 48 hours", but as Zidane says "there will be a change. It's best for everyone".

For those close to the club - and president Florentino Perez - that "change" for Bale will involve China, where several local Premier League clubs have been pushing Real to do business over a 'cost-effective' fee for the Welshman since the end of last season.

But at 29. And at the peak of his powers. For many Real identities, the thought of seeing Bale lost to Europe is ridiculous. And to be fair, it was an opinion shared by the player - and Florentino - just a month ago.

It was in June when Chinese interest really firmed up. This column being told Shanghai Shenhua made an approach to Florentino about opening formal negotiations for Bale. They had the money. And the motivation. Shanghai Shenhua were determined to buy a big attacking name from Europe - with Bale the priority. But the approach was turned down. And by Florentino. Bale later being informed of the stand. For their part, Shanghai Shenhua switched sights to Italy and ferried Stephan El Shaawary away from AS Roma just days later.

Now, thanks to Zidane's words, Jiangsu Suning and Beijing Guoan have come forward. With the latter, as it's being claimed both in China and in the UK, willing to better Bale's Madrid wages to the tune of £1m-a-week.

Crazy money. Perhaps irresistible money. But in Spain, no matter how his relationship with Real is viewed, Bale is being encouraged not give up on his European career just yet.

Former Real coach Benito Floro insists Bale "remains a great player" and if he "can't succeed at Real Madrid, the best thing is to succeed elsewhere". Pablo Franco, who worked with Bale as Julen Lopetegui's assistant coach, went further, insisting it was too soon for Bale to consider the Far East.

"It surprises me that a player like him would go to play there," declared Franco, who also raised a topic which has been lost in all this.

Currently working in Kuwait, Franco revealed Bale had offers - good offers - to leave a year ago. But the attacker chose to stay and take on "more responsibility" after seeing Cristiano Ronaldo quit for Juventus. A gesture which has gone unacknowledged until now.

"There was a lot of interest in him while we were there," recalled Franco on Monday, speaking on Seville radio. "He felt that he could be important after Cristiano left and he wanted to have more responsibility."

That commitment. That show of loyalty to the club in the aftermath of the Ronaldo chaos. Well, we're now seeing how it's being repaid. Rumours. Speculation. That's one thing. Especially as Bale doesn't read the Spanish press. But he knew something was up well before Zidane's decision to go public.

It may not have been a deliberate act, but Zidane knew the dismissal of physio Jamie Benito would hit Bale hard. Beyond even Luka Modric, Benito was the closest person to Bale inside the club. The Welshman even dedicating a goal to the physio last season. In an environment where every aspect of a player's happiness is accommodated, there was no misinterpreting the message for Bale with Benito's dismissal.

Isolated. Publicly unwanted. It is only a matter of time before Bale and Real Madrid split. And while it does appear China offers the only realistic option for the Wales captain. Choosing the Far East doesn't have to mean the end to his European career.

The interest of Jiangsu Suning raises the prospect of Bale following Ronaldo to Italy this new season. It's fantasy calcio for now. But the Italian press will soon catch on. A contract with Jiangsu Suning can involve Suning's Serie A club, Inter Milan. There's next to nothing preventing Jiangsu Suning from buying Bale. Putting him on a fat contract. And then loaning him to Inter for zero fee and zero percentage of his wages. All in time for the September transfer deadline.

The likes of Bayern Munich, even Florentino and Real Madrid, will kick up a fuss. But so what? Italian football has been taking a beating from the rest of Europe for too long. It's high time they made FIFA's regulations work for them.

As mentioned, this, for now, is fantasy stuff. But it is an angle. An achievable one. And just the move to satisfy those Real Madrid identities urging Bale not to write off his European career just yet.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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