Guardi­ola: City may miss out on De Jong

Fer­nand­inho dif­fi­cult to re­place, ad­mits man­ager Cham­pi­ons face Wolves at the Eti­had tonight

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - By James Ducker

Pep Guardi­ola has ad­mit­ted Manch­ester City face a se­ri­ous bat­tle try­ing to find the next Fer­nand­inho amid fears of los­ing out to Barcelona for Ajax mid­fielder Frenkie de Jong.

The City man­ager has also ruled out any prospect of pay­ing £100 mil­lion for Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers’ Ruben Neves and told Kevin De Bruyne that if he “has a prob­lem he knows where I am” after the Bel­gium mid­fielder was un­happy about be­ing sub­sti­tuted less than an hour into the 9-0 vic­tory over Bur­ton Al­bion last week.

City have been chas­ing a longterm re­place­ment for Fer­nand­inho who can also pro­vide qual­ity short­term cover for the Brazil hold­ing mid­fielder for over a year, and lost out to Chelsea for Jorginho last sum­mer.

Fer­nand­inho has been in out­stand­ing form and his im­por­tance was un­der­lined over Christ­mas when City lost back-to-back Premier League games to Crys­tal Palace and Le­ices­ter City with­out the mid­fielder, whose fit­ness is cru­cial to their ti­tle chal­lenge. Guardi­ola has main­tained that City will not en­ter the trans­fer mar­ket this month but, with Fer­nand­inho turn­ing 34 in May, there is a recog­ni­tion that the cham­pi­ons need to buy in his po­si­tion. City are pre­pared to pay about £70 mil­lion for De Jong but face se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion from front-run­ners Barcelona and Paris St-ger­main for the 21-year-old Hol­land mid­fielder.

They want a mid­fielder in ad­di­tion to De Jong but Guardi­ola is adamant that they have no in­ten­tion of meet­ing Wolves’s valu­a­tion of Neves ahead of

tonight’s game at home to the Mid­lands club.

“He [Neves] is an ex­cel­lent player – it in­volves play­ing with two hold­ing mid­field­ers, not just one – but he’s an ex­cel­lent player,” the City man­ager said.

“But a month ago, I started read­ing, ‘Ruben Neves, £100mil­lion’ – that is not go­ing to hap­pen, we are not go­ing to pay £100mil­lion for a hold­ing mid­fielder.

“It’s not easy to find the spe­cific qual­ity of the play­ers [who can play hold­ing mid­field]. Maybe there aren’t many but there are play­ers who can play in that role. Specif­i­cally, Fer­nand­inho’s role, it’s so dif­fi­cult to find.

“He knows the Premier League, he knows ev­ery­thing and that’s so im­por­tant. But, of course, for the next sea­son it’s an im­por­tant tar­get to find. He’ll be 34 and he can­not play ev­ery few days.”

Guardi­ola would not be drawn specif­i­cally on City’s in­ter­est in De Jong but ad­mit­ted it was rare to beat Barcelona to a sign­ing.

“If you are the only one who wants a player, it’s easy, but if you want one and many, many clubs want him, it’s more com­pli­cated, es­pe­cially if it’s [Real] Madrid or Barcelona,” Guardi­ola said.

“Nor­mally, when you are in­volved with Madrid and Barcelona, you are go­ing to lose. You have to be quicker and more ef­fi­cient. It will be more ex­pen­sive for ev­ery­body.

“But I’m not talk­ing about the

case of the Ajax player be­cause he is an Ajax player. There are many play­ers – not just one if it doesn’t hap­pen. When many teams want a player, it’s more com­pli­cated.

“Some­times, it doesn’t de­pend on us. You have to pay the club, pay the fam­ily and talk with the player, and with the agents, it’s nuts. It’s re­ally com­pli­cated.”

De Bruyne had walked straight down the tun­nel against Bur­ton when he was sub­sti­tuted after 57 min­utes of the first leg of City’s Carabao Cup semi-fi­nal thrash­ing of the League One side.

The Bel­gian wanted to play for longer after spend­ing the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son on the side­lines but Guardi­ola is de­ter­mined to han­dle his come­back care­fully fol­low­ing suc­ces­sive knee in­juries.

“I don’t know what hap­pened, he [De Bruyne] didn’t speak to me,” Guardi­ola said. “If he has a prob­lem, he knows where I am. I didn’t speak with him so that one time I can­not say what he thinks be­cause I don’t know.”

Bat­tle: Pep Guardi­ola faces com­pe­ti­tion as he seeks to sign a hold­ing mid­fielder

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