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Pep holding out for right midfielder to cover Fernandinho


Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong. Photo: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong. Photo: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong. Photo: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola has admitted Manchester City face a serious battle 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 long-term replacement for Fernandinho, who can also provide quality short-term cover for the Brazilian 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 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 (right) 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' 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, £100 million - that is not going to happen, we are not going to pay £100 million 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.

"Sometimes, it doesn't depend on us. You have to pay the club, pay the family and talk with the player, the agents, it's nuts."

De Bruyne had walked straight down the tunnel against Burton when he was substituted after 57 minutes of the first leg of City's League 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." (©The Daily Telegraph)