BEIJING • Gareth Bale's £1 million (S$1.6 million)-a-week move from Real Madrid collapsed last weekend after the Spanish LaLiga club refused to sanction his exit on a free transfer to Jiangsu Suning, but Chinese football has re-emerged as a force in the global transfer market.
Despite measures to rein in spending, Austria forward Marko Arnautovic, Venezuela striker Salomon Rondon and Italy winger Stephan El Shaarawy all arrived during the Chinese Super League's (CSL) summer transfer window, which shut on Wednesday.
There was a flurry of domestic transfers too, while Champions League-winning coach Rafael Benitez also chose to leave Newcastle to take over at Dalian Yifang.
According to the Oriental Sports Daily, nearly €100 million (S$151.7 million) was spent in transfer fees by CSL clubs, compared to the record €128 million splurged in the summer of 2016.
Arnautovic was the biggest buy, swopping West Ham for CSL champions Shanghai SIPG for €25 million.
But it was Bale's proposed transfer to Jiangsu which really made headlines and renewed fears about Chinese clubs distorting the transfer market with wages the rest of the world cannot match.
The Wales international was all set to sign a blockbuster three-year contract that would have been the most lucrative in Chinese football history, dwarfing the £615,000 a week earned by former Argentina forward Carlos Tevez at Shanghai Shenhua.
However, Real pulled the plug at the last moment because of wrangling over the transfer fee, a source told Agence France-Presse.
While the 100 per cent tax on the transfers of foreign players that was imposed in 2017 has deterred Chinese clubs from shelling out exorbitant sums, Harry Belford Spencer, co-founder of Shanghai-based sports advisory company First Pick Group, said they continue to offer wages that are "two or even three times" what players can earn in Europe.
The Briton, however, noted that CSL teams are now smarter in the market, buying players for footballing reasons than has-beens looking for a final payday, which was why Bale had been touted as a coup signing with lasting impact.
Following his failed move, the Real forward was spotted playing golf in Madrid despite coach Zinedine Zidane insisting after his side's 1-0 friendly loss to Tottenham on Tuesday that Bale's omission was because he was "unwell".
Speaking after Real's 5-3 win over Turkish outfit Fenerbahce on Wednesday - their first pre-season victory - the Frenchman said of Bale: "I'm here with my players, so I can't really say much (about him playing golf). I hope that he has trained there. I'm not getting involved with his personal life... and we will see about everything else."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS