Suning's Santini signing extinguishes buzz over Bale

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Gareth Bale won't be joining Jiangsu Suning this summer as the Chinese club's attention has turned away from the Welshman by wrapping up a deal for Ivan Santini.

The arrival of any foreign player to the Chinese Super League can usually be guaranteed to generate varying degrees of fanfare and excitement from media and fans alike.

Monday's announcement that journeyman Croatian striker Ivan Santini had joined Jiangsu Suning, however, elicited only disappointment and a sense of anti-climax.

With Santini's capture filling Suning's foreign-player quota, the signing signaled the end of the Nanjing-based club's highly publicized pursuit of Welsh superstar Gareth Bale.

Eagerly anticipated as a massive coup for Suning and the CSL, the deal reportedly would have netted Bale an eye-popping weekly salary of $1.25 million and shifted global glare onto the league like never before.

Instead, Suning has made do with the little-known Santini from Belgian club Anderlecht. Both he and Bale are 30 years old, but there the similarities end-and the gulf in class and star power could hardly be greater.

On Monday, Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, attempted to exonerate his client from any blame for the collapse of the deal.

"Stories suggesting that Gareth or his family were the reason the deal did not take place are completely false," Barnett told Sky Sports, responding to Spanish reports that Bale's wife was not so keen on relocating to China.

It is widely believed Madrid president Florentino Perez was the real reason the move collapsed. Perez reportedly would not agree to Bale, who is contracted at the Bernabeu until 2022, leaving for free or for a relatively nominal fee.

The transfer fee or lack of it had been key to the move, given that Suning would have to pay a 100 percent tax in line with CSL rules on imports.

The abrupt end to Bale's proposed move was all the more surprising given Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had left it in no doubt he wanted the Welsh winger gone, saying before a preseason match last week that Bale's departure "would be best for everyone".

Zidane's very public disdain for Bale drew fresh criticism from Barnett on Monday.

"It's simple, Zidane doesn't like Gareth. There's no relationship between them. There never has been," the agent said.

"Zidane is a disgrace; he shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid."

Barnett is not the only one somewhat perplexed at Bale's treatment at Madrid. Since signing from Tottenham for a then world-record fee of around $105 million in 2013, Bale has won four Champions League titles, scoring in two finals-most memorably when his spectacular overhead kick floored Liverpool in the 2018 decider.

Still, Bale remains ostracized by Madrid fans and Zidane, and has now been omitted from the Real squad for Tuesday's preseason match against Spurs in Munich.

The Spanish giant said on its website that Bale would instead train with injured teammate Luka Jovic.

Speculation over Bale's future will now inevitably rumble on, but finding a club willing to match his $800,000 weekly salary could be a major stumbling block.

At the time of the writing, rumors continued to swirl that another CSL club, Beijing Guo'an, might still swoop for Bale before the Chinese transfer window shuts on Wednesday.

Bayern Munich, Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool have all been linked with Bale in recent months, although Anfield manager Jurgen Klopp all but ruled out a Reds move last week, telling Sky Sports: "Bale is a Real Madrid player; if he leaves he will be outstandingly expensive, with big wages.

"It's not just about him. You have to create a team. A team is not a collection of individuals. We are not going for these single players and hoping they will solve the future for us."

A more probable destination would be Paris Saint-Germain, especially if Neymar gets his way and returns to Barcelona.

Meanwhile, back at Suning, coach Cosmin Olaroiu will hope that despite his low profile, Santini can hit the ground running to boost the fifth-placed team's chances for a top-four finish and possible qualification for the Asian Champions League.

The 6-foot-2 forward, who has five Croatian caps, netted 16 times for Anderlecht last term and has also been prolific in recent seasons for Belgian clubs Standard Liege and Kortrijk, as well as Caen in France.

With Argentine Gabriel Paletta expected to leave Suning, Santini completes the team's four-man overseas player quota, along with fellow new arrival Miranda, Alex Teixeira (both Brazilians) and Italian Eder.

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