Guardiola laments de Jong's move to Barcelona

LONDON • While Pep Guardiola was left purring with delight at his side's "desire to play good and always improve" as Manchester City romped to a 5-0 hammering of Burnley in the fourth round of the FA Cup, he also had a tinge of regret.

Not at his side's display at the Etihad on Saturday as the Premier League champions remain on course for an unprecedented quadruple, but rather at being beaten to the punch by Barcelona for Frenkie de Jong's signature.

The 21-year-old Dutch international, arguably the hottest midfield prospect around, agreed to join the Spanish champions from Ajax in the summer for a fee of €75 million (S$115.8 million) on Wednesday.

However, de Jong, who also turned down Paris Saint-Germain, had been in discussions with City regarding a potential move, telling Dutch broadcaster NOS over the weekend that he "spoke with Guardiola".

Having missed out on his services, the Spaniard felt the club had to be "quicker and smarter" in the transfer market if they were to land targets in the future.

Urging City's Abu Dhabi owners to try and sign players earlier in their careers so that they are more affordable, he said: "The transfer market, the salaries, increase a lot. After Neymar went to PSG (for €222 million), prices have increased to incredible levels.

"We have to adapt. It's difficult to buy top, top players at a good price.

SKY-HIGH PRICES

The transfer market, the salaries, increase a lot. After Neymar went to PSG (for €222 million), prices have increased to incredible levels. We have to adapt.

PEP GUARDIOLA , Manchester City manager, urging City's Abu Dhabi owners to try and sign players earlier in their careers so that they are more affordable.

"It's almost impossible. Maybe we have to trust in the young players (in the academy) and help them develop their own personality here.

"I said many times, Barcelona and (Real) Madrid, it's impossible to fight against them, for the prestige, the incredible league, the incredible clubs they are.

"The players have to take their own decisions. When they don't want to come, it's because they want another place. There are other options, but we are going to try if we believe we need players in that position."

He was also adamant that having the correct pay structure was vital to maintaining team spirit.

The 48-year-old, who splashed out a club-record fee of £60 million (S$107.1 million) for Riyad Mahrez last summer, added: "We try to keep the harmony in the locker room with the wages. When you have no balance with that, then there is always a problem with the mood in the locker room.

"One of the good things that City have done is keeping that balance.

"The reality is that it's not just one or two teams paying a lot on wages. There are many and sometimes, we can't compete with that. At the end of the day, we want players who want to come here."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2019, with the headline 'Guardiola laments de Jong's move to Barcelona'. Print Edition | Subscribe