Pep Guardiola insists he is not disappointed to see Manchester City target Frenkie de Jong move to Barcelona, but warned that the Premier League champions will find it "almost impossible" to sign the world's best players for a price they deem reasonable.
City were in the race to sign De Jong all the way up until Barca made a big-money move in the past few days, with the Catalans offering to pay Ajax more than the previously agreed £61 million (€70m/$81m) fee, and upping the Dutchman's wages to between £260,000 and £300,000 per week.
Guardiola had previously urged City to be "quicker and more efficient" in their attempts to ward off Barca and Real Madrid in the transfer market and that is a theme he returned to on Friday.
City's transfer policy dictates that they will not pay above what they consider to be a fair price for new players, a stance that has ensured their highest transfer outlay is £60m (€69m/$79m) - much lower than the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barca.
But Guardiola now suggests that City could have to start looking at younger prospects rather than established stars, because the Blues are unwilling to pay the type of fees that rival clubs do.
"The transfer market, the salaries, increases a lot," the Catalan said. "After Neymar at PSG, it increased to incredible levels. Unfortunately that's why we spend a lot to change the team (average age). We have to be quicker and smarter and try to buy the players.
"We have to adapt. It’s difficult to buy top, top players at a good price. It’s almost impossible. Maybe we have to trust in the young players and help them develop their own personality here."
He added: "I said many times, Barcelona and 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 and we are going to try if we believe we need players in that position."
City have been scouring the market for potential reinforcements in midfield and at left-back, and are likely to face a re-run of the De Jong saga in their attempts to lure Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax.
Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Barcelona were all in the race for De Jong at one stage and that is the case for De Ligt, too.
That could pose further problems for City, with Guardiola explaining that the club do not want to break their wage structure on new signings.
Kevin De Bruyne is currently City's top earner with a contract worth nearly £300,000 per week after all possible bonuses are factored in.
Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero are also on big money at the Etihad Stadium but City are reluctant to offer prospective new signings similar deals; 12 months ago they walked away from the opportunity to sign Alexis Sanchez after the Chilean's agent wanted them to match a major counter-offer from Manchester United.
City have also seen two attempts to sign Kylian Mbappe falter, and it is believed they were reluctant to make De Jong, 21, one of their highest earners.
"I think we try to keep the harmony in the locker room with the wages," he said. "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, many. Before the rumours 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. Maybe not in Germany.
"There are many and sometimes we can’t compete with that. That's why we have to be quicker, faster and don’t get nervous."
Guardiola says he does not know how City can be quicker and more efficient with their transfer dealings but insists he would be happy with his squad even if no new players were to be signed in the summer.
“I don’t know! The others are quicker and smarter, like we try to do. 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 cannot forget we only bought one player this season. 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, but the club."