Pep Guardiola has sensationally revealed he was offered the chance to sign Paul Pogba from rivals Manchester United in January.
In a revelation that further exposes the breakdown in relationship between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho, the Manchester City boss dropped a transfer bombshell on the eve of today’s derby.
City can seal the Premier League title with a victory today — but just as worrying for United is their prime asset being offered to their city rivals.
Guardiola claims the chance to buy Pogba was put to him by the £89million midfielder’s agent Mino Raiola. He said: ‘Two months ago he offered me (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us. He was interested in Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us. Pogba is an incredible player. A top, top player.’
As news of Guardiola’s comments broke last night, Pogba tweeted an image showing his hand to his ear and the caption: ‘Say what?’, as if he couldn’t believe Guardiola’s claim.
Pogba’s relationship with Mourinho has been strained and the Frenchman has started only five of United’s last 12 games. The manager will not be impressed by his public response to the link to City.
Say what? 👂🏾 pic.twitter.com/FGCGFqAe64
Raiola denies he has spoken to Guardiola but did not distance himself from the claim he offered his clients to City. He told the BBC: ‘I never spoke to Pep Guardiola. I would not speak to him about players, I would speak to Manchester City. They are a fantastic club with a fantastic manager.’
Relations between Mourinho and Raiola, who also represents striker Romelu Lukaku, have also come under serious strain.
The outspoken agent’s frequent trips to United’s Carrington training ground are considered a distraction and his opinions on team selection unhelpful.
And Jorge Mendes, a Mourinho ally, is understood to have an interest in looking after Pogba.
Guardiola’s comments came in a rapier-sharp attack on Raiola, who labelled Guardiola ‘a coward, a dog’ last month to reignite a feud dating back to the Catalan’s handling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona.
The revelation that Guardiola was sounded out about the prospect of signing Pogba will spell further trouble for Raiola and Mourinho.
Guardiola’s rebuke was dripping with sarcasm and he added: ‘He (Raiola) has to protect his players and he has to know he cannot bring the players to a guy like me, like a dog.
‘Comparing (me to) a dog is bad. It’s not good. He has to respect the dogs. Finally, the people discover my secrets, I am a bad guy. I’m a coward.
‘I am not a good guy. He deserves his players to play with better guys. But, he said as well that I am a top manager. Thank you!’
Victory over United today would set a record for the earliest any side have been crowned champions.
Guardiola, however, is adamant his team have no chance of repeating this season.
‘In the future? No way. Never is it going to happen again,’ he said. ‘Never. Eighteen games (won) in a row? No way. Impossible.
‘The opponents want to beat you, you’re a little bit more relaxed, the big achievement is already done so your intensity is sometimes lower.
‘I have experience of that. I was in Barcelona for four years and when you win, you win, you win — it’s so much more demanding. Next season will be so complicated for us. That is not going to happen again. It’s impossible.’
Guardiola, meanwhile, admitted he might have taken the wrong approach to Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat against Liverpool, agreeing that picking Ilkay Gundogan over Raheem Sterling and starting with four midfielders could have sent a confusing message to his players.
‘Maybe. We lost 3-0, so maybe,’ he said. ‘But sometimes we played with Raz (Sterling), Leroy (Sane) and Sergio Aguero and we lost 1-0 and 4-3.
‘We wanted to attack in a different way, to have more control, because our experience in the last games in Anfield was not so good with three strikers.’
City hope to have Aguero back fit today. The striker has missed the last month with a knee injury, sitting out four games, and was assessed last night.
The manager also backed Aguero’s understudy Gabriel Jesus to rediscover his golden touch.
Jesus was self-critical in midweek, claiming his performance at Anfield was the worst of his career.
Guardiola said: ‘Gabriel’s so strong, he knows how we like him and support him. Gabriel is 21 years old, it was his birthday earlier in the week.
‘You have to live through these knockout situations to be better players. I don’t agree with him. He played well. The only problem is when he isn’t running or complaining. He wants to learn for his future.’