Pep Guardiola hits back at Roy Keane for calling Erling Haaland a ‘League Two player’

Erling Haaland looks towards the sky during the match against Arsenal

Pep Guardiola has leapt to the defence of Erling Haaland and told Roy Keane he was wrong to label the record-breaking Manchester City striker “a League Two player.”

The City manager has questioned why high-profile former players make their living criticising their current counterparts, given they know how hard the job is.

Guardiola issued an impassioned analysis of Haaland’s display in the weekend draw with Arsenal, one which led to Keane’s dismissive comments about the Norwegian, and claimed he is the best striker in the world.

“I am not agreeing with him. Absolutely not,” said Guardiola. “It’s like [if] I said he’s [Keane] a manager for the second or third league.

“I don’t think so. He’s the best striker in the world and he helped us to win what we won last season and the reason why we don’t create many chances is not due to Erling.

“We need more presence in the final third with more people and we played an exceptional game against Arsenal. I reviewed it. We just missed more people in the final third, maybe for the quality and different skills we have, but Erling is exceptional.”

On the broader topic of ex-professionals making a career out of denigrating the efforts of current players, Guardiola was even more strident, insisting he would never follow that path.

“I am surprised it’s come from former players,” he said. “From journalists, I can understand, because they have never been on the pitch but the former players? Always I am surprised.

“It’s like the referees, when they retire they always criticise the referees. How difficult is that business for the players? That always surprises me.

“The memory disappears quick. The problems that the players have [now], they [the pundits] had. The lack of those actions, they missed it a thousand million times and they were hurt when they were criticised by the former players.

“They [current players] have to do it, it’s their job, accept it. If you can’t accept it as a footballer, you have to dedicate yourself to another job, like read books! When you are in the public so much, you have to accept it.

“Today it is what it is, we have to accept it and move forward and that is why, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I am not a guy who is going to criticise my colleagues when I retire.

“I am not going to be there saying it should be this, should be that. I could be doing it now. But I don’t do it. It’s easy to say, but everyone has to live for something.”

‘I do it for the cameras, for my ego’

As he prepares to face Aston Villa in another tough test at the Etihad on Wednesday night, Guardiola remains impressed by Haaland’s professionalism and approach, as he has been since the day he arrived from Borussia Dortmund.

“I’ve been really surprised day one about that,” said Guardiola. “You sign a player and you don’t know him until you are working with him. I was surprised by how incredible he lives his life for his football game to be ready.

“Recovery is not easy for the dimension of his body. That’s why it’s special treatments, but he’s aware of that, his interaction with doctors, physios, nutritionists, he’s aware of that and we don’t have any doubts that he’s not doing what he has to do.”

Another talking point from the goalless draw with Arsenal was Guardiola’s heated conversation with Jack Grealish on the final whistle – although the City manager responded sarcastically to suggestions he was “grandstanding” with the very public dressing down of his England winger.

“I do it for the cameras, for my ego,” he said. “I’m the famous person on the team and I need the cameras for my ego to go to sleep with incredible satisfaction.

“I always try to criticise the players there and let them feel how bad they are. Especially, when Erling scores three goals, the compliments have to be with me, not with them.

“That’s why I use the cameras to do that. My advice next time is don’t film us and it will not be a problem.”

But Guardiola does insist he expects a strong end to the season from Grealish after his recovery from recent injury woes.

“Yeah. I had the feeling that he is back, in training, in desire, in many things,” he said. “Now I’m pleased. I ask for the players be ready, be yourself, then after that it doesn’t matter if you perform at the highest level or less.”

John Stones may be fit to face Villa but Kyle Walker, Ederson and Nathan Ake are all ruled out.

Club captain Walker is also a major doubt for the first leg of the meeting with Real Madrid next Tuesday.

“The doctors say no, but Kyle is Kyle, he has special genetics,” said Guardiola. “The doctor said to me it was quite serious, but I said ‘Kyle is Kyle!’”