Pep Guardiola has acknowledged finding a long-term replacement for Fernandinho is becoming a matter of increasing urgency for Manchester City.
The 33-year-old Brazilian has become one of the most important players in City’s line-up during Guardiola’s three seasons at the club, with his hard work and passing ability as a holding midfielder providing both security in front of the defence and scope for the team to attack.
Reigning champions City have lost just one of the 19 Premier League matches in which Fernandinho has played, whereas they have been defeated in both of the games he has missed. Guardiola does not appear to have a deputy of the same quality – John Stones, normally a centre-back, struggled in the role when Crystal Palace won at the Etihad Stadium on December 22, while Ilkay Gundogan has not been entirely convincing either.
City have been linked with a move for Frenkie de Jong from Ajax at the end of this season, but the Dutch midfielder is attracting significant interest from other clubs too.
Guardiola acknowledges he cannot expect Fernandinho, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, to play as much for City as he gets older, adding a solution has to be found for next season.
“It’s not easy to find the specific quality of the players,” said Guardiola. “Maybe there aren’t many, but there are players who can play in that role.”
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss added: “Specifically with Fernandinho’s role, it’s so difficult to find. He knows the Premier League, after three years together here, 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.”
There have been reports in British newspapers suggesting Wolves’ Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves may be a long-term replacement for Fernandinho, although their roles are slightly different. Neves, whose Wolves side visit the Etihad on Monday, tends to play as one of two holding midfielders, whereas Fernandinho performs that role on his own in the City line-up.
“Ruben Neves is an excellent player,” said Guardiola, whose second-placed side will be looking to cut Liverpool’s seven-point lead at the top of the table.
“The system at Wolves involves playing with two holding midfielders, not just one. But he’s an excellent player. There are many clubs in the world, many holding midfielders in the world, and most of them can play here. That’s not the point. The point is that most of them are under contracts.”
But Guardiola insisted, for all City’s wealth, there were limits to even their transfer budget.
“A month ago, I started reading: ‘Ruben Neves, £100 million’. That is not going to happen. We are not going to pay £100 million for a holding midfielder. Of course, all departments in the club, we have in every position four or five or six options (potential targets) – depending on age, what we believe and, of course, the price.”
Despite the likelihood of losing out on De Jong, Guardiola has no qualms over the work being done by City director of football Txiki Begiristain and his team to bring in top-class players.
“I would say they are incredible, top at what they are doing. It looks simple but it’s not simple. It looks easy but it’s not easy,” said Guardiola.
“I am in touch quite often with Txiki, especially, because he is close to my door. I know exactly what they do, with the (City) academy, with the first team and they are doing it really well.
“But sometimes it doesn’t depend on us. You have to pay the club, pay the family and talk with the players, and with the agents, it’s nuts. It’s complicated, so, so complicated.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)