Photo: Denis Doyle (Getty Images)

A prolonged transfer saga can either be endlessly entertaining or relentlessly dreary, depending on your point of view. The Gareth Bale transfer saga was somehow straddling the line between both extremes, but has taken a decidedly taken a gloomy turn this weekend.

When last we checked in on Real Madrid’s attempt to offload their 30-year-old Welshman, manager Zinedine Zidane had essentially wiped his hands clean of Bale. With the purchases of both Eden Hazard and Luka Jović, Bale was clearly surplus to requirements at the Spanish capital. The next step was the hardest: finding someone to pawn him off on.

The main problem here, as it always has been, is Bale’s enormous salary. The man makes nearly half a million euros per week. That’s more than all but a tiny number of European clubs could afford to pay him, and the ones that could don’t seem to be too interested in doing so. It’s not at all clear where Bale could or will end up, but after the very public war of words this weekend, there’s no way he can stay in Madrid.

On Saturday, Zidane left Bale out of the squad for Real’s International Champions Cup friendly against Bayern Munich. That itself spoke volumes about Bale’s lowly place in the manager’s mind, but then Zidane cranked it up to deafening levels in a press conference the next day. “Bale did not play because the club is solidifying his exit,” Zidane told the assembled media. “I hope it’s imminent, if it’s tomorrow, all the better.”

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The Frenchman went on to say he has no personal problems with Bale, convincing no one in the process. Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett did not take kindly to the comments, immediately firing back with some of his own in defense of his client:

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By all appearances, the relationship has reached the point of no return. Zidane’s express purpose when he came back to Real in March was to clear out the squad of players he deemed unworthy to wear the all-whites. Chief among them is Bale, the man whose continued presence on the roster was supposedly what drove Zidane to leave the job in the first place. Finally getting rid of Bale has always seemed like Zidane’s top priority this summer.

According to the rumor mill, Bale has before him two serious options: go back to Tottenham, or set off for China. Bale’s old club is reported to have both the interest and the ability to pay up to €60 million for their former star man, but again, we come to a sticking point: they will, at most, pay Bale half of his current salary. Bale, who has a whole three years left on his current deal, might not be so keen to accept a pay cut that big, not when he could stick it to Zidane by staying in Madrid as a very rich pit of misery on the Real bench.

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That brings us to China. The Guardian’s Sid Lowe—one of the more reliable sources for scuttlebutt in Spanish soccer—reported this weekend that there’s serious interest for Bale in China. Chinese clubs are apparently willing to not only match but actually increase Bale’s wages, if that’s what it takes to secure his signature.

The main potential obstacle there, other than convincing a 30-year-old superstar to leave the big stage for a far-away offshoot league, is the China’s 100 percent tax on transfers, which limits the amount they’d be open to paying Madrid as a transfer fee. As Lowe pointed out, that would mean Real would have to take an upfront hit on the fee in order to get Bale’s contract off the books.

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Given how the situation has deteriorated in the last 48 hours, that’s probably the best deal the club will find, and reports on Monday seem to suggest that Madrid might actually let Bale walk on a free transfer, just to get him out of there. Now it’s just a matter of pulling the trigger and putting down one of the bleakest sagas you’ll ever see, for everyone’s sake.