Pep Guardiola has sensationally claimed that only a few weeks ago he was offered the chance to sign Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitarayan from Manchester United by their powerful agent Mino Raiola.
The Manchester City manager sarcastically added that he was shocked Raiola, given the bitter feud between the pair, wanted to move two of his star clients to play for a “dog”. “I’m surprised because I am a dog,” Guardiola said in reference to the agent’s derogatory description of him.
Guardiola’s revelations, on the eve of the Manchester derby, a highly-charged derby in which City can win the Premier League title, are extraordinary and will also re-open his sulphurous dispute with United manager Jose Mourinho. Guardiola lit the blue and red touch-paper.
Suggesting that Pogba, and with Mkhitaryan sold to Arsenal in January, wants out of United will infuriate Mourinho who has been dealing with constant questions over the £89million record signing’s performances, state of mind and, above all, his relationship with him.
Guardiola made his amazing claim after being asked whether the United manager, given the fierce history between the two, was still his “big rival”. “I have many (rivals)… especially agents,” Guardiola responded. “I have a lot. I am a big boss. I’ll give you a huge list of my big rivalries, believe me.”
He was then asked directly whether Raiola was on that list given the animosity the agent has shown. That was recently renewed with Raiola attacking the Spaniard by saying: “Pep Guardiola, the coach, is fantastic. As a person he’s an absolute zero. He’s a coward, a dog.”
The pair have been involved in a long-running feud which erupted in 2011 when another of Raiola’s clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was forced out of Barcelona after disputes with Guardiola which denied the striker the chance of winning the Champions League, a prize that always eluded him.
“I could answer him. I have a question, yeah, I will answer him, come on. Okay,” Guardiola said before making his incendiary claim: “I don’t understand why I am so… I agree with him. I am not a… Finally, the people discover my secrets; I am a bad guy. I’m a coward. I don’t understand why I am a so bad guy. I never speak with him (Raiola) so his influence on my opinion, so I don’t know maybe Ibra explain many things about me. But being a guy like two months ago he offered me Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us. Why?
“Why he offer? He was interested in Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us? So I’m like a guy, so he has to protect his players and he has to know so he cannot bring the players a guy like me, like a dog. And comparing a dog is bad. It’s not good. He has to respect the dogs.”
Asked whether he would ever sign a Raiola client, Guardiola, again sarcastically, said: “I am not a good guy. I am not a good guy. He deserves his players to play with better guys. But, he knows as well I am a top manager. Thank you.”
Given the timing, the stakes, the clubs and personalities involved it was one of the most explosive claims a manager could ever make although it was also, clearly, a coldly calculated one by Guardiola. Maybe also it was targeted directly at Mourinho and unsettling him given the United manager’s deliberately inflammatory statement, before the last Manchester derby in December, that he was surprised Guardiola had not been disciplined for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of the Catalan right to independence. Guardiola was eventually punished by the Football Association.
And what of the football? City can secure a third title in seven years, and a first under Guardiola, if they beat United at home which is the most delicious prospect for their supporters and not least after the shock of losing the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final to Liverpool 3-0 on Wednesday. The second leg is at the Etihad on Tuesday and it is clearly consuming Guardiola’s thoughts more than beating United.