Pep Guardiola has revealed Manchester City pulled out of the race to sign Ajax midfielder Frenkie De Jong for fear of upsetting other players by breaking the club’s wage structure.
De Jong will join Barcelona in July in a deal that will cost up to a reported £74 million. The Dutchman was handed a contract worth at least £300,000 a week.
That sort of salary would have instantly placed the 21-year-old, capped five times by his country, at the top of the City salary structure, something manager Guardiola would not allow given De Jong is only at the start of his promising career.
“We try to keep harmony in the locker room with the wages,” he told reporters on Friday.
“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, many. Before the rumour was that it was just PSG and Manchester City. That is over. Everybody can pay a lot in fees and wages. It’s not just in England: it’s in Italy, in Spain, France. There are many, and sometimes we can’t compete with that. We have to be quicker, faster and don’t get nervous. At the end we want players who want to come here.”
City’s wealth, courtesy of the Abu Dhabi royal family who own the club, makes Guardiola’s complaint about being unable to compete with rival clubs ring hollow. But, at least where de Jong was concerned, Guardiola insisted that City could not match the lure of Spanish superpowers Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“I said many times in Barcelona and Madrid it’s impossible to fight against them,” he said.
“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 and we are going to try if we believe we need players in that position.”
The last two transfer windows have seen him make just one significant signing in each.
Admittedly, both windows saw Guardiola shatter the club’s transfer record – the £57 million paid for Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte 12 months ago, followed by the £60 million invested in Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez in the summer. But Guardiola admits he is even contemplating a summer in which he might not add to his squad, following a frenetic first 12 months of transfer business while with the club.
“I don’t know! The others are quicker and smarter, like we try to do,” said Guardiola, when asked how City can compete in the market.
“In the market there are many players, in positions we need, but even next season if we can’t take anyone then the squad remains good. I’m so satisfied for what City has done. We’ll see what happens in the summer. We’ll see the behaviour of the players in the locker room, their desire to stay and help the club – not just me and their mates.
“The transfer market, the salaries, increases a lot. Our average age was so old when we arrived but, after Neymar (moved to) PSG, it (fees) increased to incredible levels. Unfortunately that’s why we spent a lot to change the team. We have to be quicker and smarter and try to buy the players. We have to adapt.
“Maybe we have to trust in the young players and help them develop their own personality here.”
© Agence France-Presse (additional edits from Chris Kelleher)