Manchester City's rivals in the transfer market are proving "quicker and smarter" in signing top players, says manager Pep Guardiola.
City were reportedly interested in Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who has agreed a July move to Barcelona where he will earn more than £300,000 a week.
Guardiola says finding value is now "almost impossible" when competing with top clubs for elite players.
"We have to be quicker, faster and don't get nervous," said Guardiola.
'Sometimes we can't compete - maybe we should trust the young players'
Research by La Gazzetta dello Sport published in May showed Manchester City had spent around £1.4bn on players in the last decade, the biggest outlay in Europe.
But their only major signing for this season was Riyad Mahrez and Guardiola, 48, praised the club's policy in maintaining a "balanced" wage structure when chasing targets as it promotes "harmony" in the dressing room.
But asked how exactly City become quicker and more efficient in the market, he replied: "I don't know.
"Everybody can pay a lot in fees and wages. Before the rumours were that it was just Paris St-Germain and Manchester City. That is over.
"The others are quicker and smarter, like we try to do. There are many and sometimes we can't compete with that. 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."
'Wages maintain dressing room harmony'
De Jong will join Barcelona in July in a £65m deal which could rise with bonus payments.
City were reportedly keen on his signature but were put off by the prospect of the 21-year-old earning as much as striker Sergio Aguero.
Guardiola cites the world-record transfer of Brazilian forward Neymar from Barcelona to Paris St-Germain in 2017 as a moment where the transfer market and salaries "increased to incredible levels".
The challenges presented by increasing wages saw City pull out of the race to sign Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez in January 2018 and also walk away from a deal for Mahrez due to Leicester City's valuation of the winger in the same month.
Mahrez eventually joined for £60m in July - a lower fee than was proposed seven months earlier.
"I think we try to keep the harmony in the locker room with the wages," added Guardiola. "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.
"It's not just in England, it's in Italy, Spain, France, maybe not in Germany.
"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. It'll be important."