MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City was recently offered the chance to sign Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba by the player’s agent, manager Pep Guardiola said Friday in a revelation that added extra spice to the potentially title-defining Premier League derby between the two teams.
Guardiola was responding to a question about agent Mino Raiola, who said in an interview last month the City coach is “absolute zero … a coward, a dog.”
“Finally, the people discover my secrets — I am a bad guy, I’m a coward,” Guardiola said sarcastically. “I don’t understand why I am such a bad guy. I never speak with him (Raiola), so his influence on my opinion… I don’t know.
“But … two months ago, he offered me (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us. Why?”
Mkhitaryan played for United, alongside Pogba, until he joined Arsenal in the January transfer window.
Soon after Guardiola’s comments were published, Pogba posted a tweet in which he wrote: “Say what?”
United has yet to comment officially.
On Saturday, City can clinch the Premier League title in record time with a win over second-place United at Etihad Stadium.
There has been hostility between Guardiola and Raiola since one of Raiola’s most high-profile clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was forced out of Barcelona in 2011 when Guardiola coached the Spanish team.
Guardiola said he responded to Raiola’s offer of Pogba by saying City “don’t have enough money to buy Pogba because he is so expensive.”
Asked if he was surprised by Raiola’s offer, Guardiola said: “I’m surprised because I am a dog, that’s why … So, like a dog, he wants his players to come here. So, no. No way.”
Pogba joined United in 2016 for a then-world record fee of about 105 million euros ($116 million).
The France midfielder has started only five of United’s last 12 games, with manager Jose Mourinho sometimes preferring youth-team graduate Scott McTominay ahead of Pogba.
“Pogba is an incredible player,” Guardiola said. “A top, top player.”
GUARDIOLA ON MOURINHO
Guardiola denied he will take extra satisfaction from clinching the title in front of United manager Jose Mourinho.
The two coaches had a spiky relationship when they were in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, but they have not clashed since both arrived in Manchester in 2016.
“When we arrived here, OK, I understand, ‘It’s Pep and they are both together here,'” Guardiola said. “But it’s two years and nothing happened in a special way, so what I want to feel is it’s the toughest league by far, this one.
“The most satisfaction is from what we have done as a team, to win the Premier League, to feel that title, if we are able to.”
Guardiola said it wasn’t a case of him vs. Mourinho on Saturday, more City vs. United.
“Sometimes his teams, they beat me, sometimes I beat him, it’s simple like that,” he said. “After that, we are in our careers, we are still in the business, and we’ll play 1,000 times more.”
GUARDIOLA ON CITY’S DOMINATION
City is 16 points clear after 31 games and could yet win the league by a record margin, beating United’s 18-point title triumph from 1999-2000.
City also won a Premier League-record 18 straight games from August to late December, and could finish with the most wins, points and goals in a Premier League season.
“Never is it going to happen again, that. Never. Eighteen games in a row? No way. It’s impossible,” Guardiola said. “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).
“Next season will be so, so complicated for us.”
GUARDIOLA ON THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
City also won the English League Cup this season, but is likely to fall short in the Champions League after losing 3-0 at Liverpool in the first leg of their quarterfinal match.
City exited in the last 16 of the Champions League last season.
“Last season, we are not able to get the feeling that we are ready to compete in Europe,” Guardiola said. “Right now, I think we are still not ready to win the Champions League, but we make a step forward and in that competition there’s something special in terms of the quality of opponents and anything can happen.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80