Much of the transfer gossip in the January window centres around Chinese Super League clubs apparently keen on luring top talent away from Europe.
Wednesday morning's AS in Spain had a couple of stories based around big-name Real Madrid stars who could follow the likes of Carlos Tevez, Oscar and Axel Witsel in taking a big money offer and heading to the Far East.
The most eye-catching was a piece which claimed that Chinese team Hebei Fortune have offered Madrid €110 million for James Rodriguez. The reported proposal from Hebei included a chance for James to receive a €30m-a-year salary, an amazing increase from his current €3.5m per annum. But the Colombia international, according to the story, was clear that he wants to stay at Madrid and fight for his place.
Elsewhere in Wednesday's AS was an "insider" type report saying that Madrid have accepted that defender Pepe will move to China next summer when his current contract ends. The Portugal international, 34 in February, wants a new two-year deal, while Bernabeu chiefs will only offer him 12 months more at this point. AS reckon he will join either Guangzhou Evergrande or Shanghai SIPG, where he will make more money than he could at other interested clubs in Europe -- with Chelsea, Manchester City and Juventus all named in the story.
The James and Pepe articles are written by reporters with good links within Spanish football. A shared thread is that both these Madrid players share an agent in Portuguese dealmaker Jorge Mendes. The detail in the James story claims the offer from Hebei was made at December's Globe Soccer awards in Dubai, an event where Mendes and his high-profile clients are regular winners, and attended this year by Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez.
Mendes has also been one of the quickest in European football to notice the potential of the surge in interest and money from China. A year ago, he was involved in Jackson Martinez's shock €42m move to Guangzhou Evergrande, while the Guardian recently pointed out the many links between his Gestifute agency and various powerbrokers in the country. Just this week, his client Ricardo Carvalho moved to Shanghai SIPG, where the veteran former Madrid centre-back will be coached by Andre Villas-Boas.
Jorge Mendes looking happier than Jackson Martinez as €42m move to China is signed: pic.twitter.com/r20rpdN2Aa
- Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) February 3, 2016
Mendes can gain an advantage with supposed interest from China. He recently claimed Cristiano Ronaldo turned down a salary of more than €100m-a-year and pretty much every sports media outlet ran the story.
Very little detail was disclosed in some short throwaway comments, and Madrid chief Perez denied his club received an official approach, but the story can still have an impact. Potential buyers will be aware of the huge sums needed to finance such a massive deal.
Ronaldo recently signed a five-year contract and maintains he sees himself playing at the Bernabeu for another decade. But at November's ceremony there was a feeling both sides were preparing for the day when he moves on. The idea he could make huge money in China, even if he has turned the offer down and has no intention of playing there, is a useful context in which to negotiate with other potential suitors.
The Chinese Super League is a lucrative market where agents can send their clients who are not quite in the top bracket for clubs in Europe, as the moves of Tevez, Oscar and Witsel this January have shown. But the size of the contracts on offer is also more than useful in setting a market level for a player weighing up his options, even if he has no intention of moving to the Far East.
However, it still seems likely Pepe will get the two-year deal he wants at Madrid, and that James, 25, will sooner or later leave the Bernabeu for another Champions League side in a big money transfer.
When those moves go through their (real or imagined) Chinese suitors will be disappointed, but Mendes will have skillfully worked the environment to his advantage yet again.