Pep Guardiola threatens to quit Manchester City as Etihad attendance row escalates

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Etihad Stadium - Pep Guardiola told to 'stick to coaching' after pleading for more Manchester City fans to visit Etihad - GETTY IMAGES
Etihad Stadium - Pep Guardiola told to 'stick to coaching' after pleading for more Manchester City fans to visit Etihad - GETTY IMAGES

Pep Guardiola has stepped up war-of-words with Manchester City fans and insists he will walk away from the club if they are unhappy with him.

Guardiola upset the official supporters’ club general secretary Kevin Parker when he called for the Etihad Stadium to be filled for Saturday's clash against Southampton, with the attendance 15,000 down on capacity for the Champions League victory over RB Leipzig.

But he is refusing to back down despite Parker telling him to ‘stick to coaching’, and says he was issuing a rallying cry ahead of a game against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team who have enjoyed a full week to prepare for the game.

“Why I am so upset and grumpy and disappointed is that this guy pretends to tell me what I have to say, what I have to do and I know exactly what my intentions were,” said Guardiola. “But it’s the same. When people are not happy with me, I will leave, that’s for sure.

“After five years people can’t understand my behaviour with the fans is because they want to misunderstand what I say. I am not going to apologise for a second for what I said because I was honest.

“I am surprised about what happened with this man. What I said is that we would love this because we need the support with 10,000 people, 50,000 or 40,000 people. It doesn’t matter how many people come but I invite them to come and enjoy another like the previous games where we have been able to score goals. We need their support.

“If they don’t come for any reason, it is perfect. I never have the words to say ‘why didn’t you come?’ If you don’t come, don’t come. If you want to come it would be a pleasure. Mr Parker should review the comments after the game but I will not apologise to him. Absolutely not.”

Just 38,062 watched City’s first game in Europe since they were in the Champions League final in May, with also Parker criticising Guardiola for failing to take into account the difficulties of fans’ attending matches following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Guardiola has one full season left on his contract at City and says he would happily stand down if supporters want him to, although insists he is like one of them as someone who wants what is best for the club.

“If I have a problem with fans, I will step aside. It's not a problem but I am one of them. Since day one I tried to do my job as best as possible. That's for sure. I like to play in the Etihad with our fans,” he added.

“I was incredibly happy and exhausted after Leipzig. I saw that my team in the locker room and I thought in that moment about Southampton in three days and said come guys to join us so we can do it together and try to beat Ralph's team, because I knew how difficult it would be. This was my message.”

Meanwhile, Guardiola has challenged Raheem Sterling to produce his England form for City after his match-winning displays at the European Championships in the summer. Sterling has only started one game this season but is pushing for a recall.

He could be given a try as a “False Nine” this week, with City also facing Wycombe Wanderers in the EFL Cup in midweek.

“Do you know how much incredible success we had the last seasons? It is impossible without Raheem. He’s such an important player,” said Guardiola. "But I am here to tell them. He reached an incredibly high standard and I have to tell him this is the standards we need, for you, for all of us.

"And I’m pretty sure he will get it. If he’s able to do it, he will do it. And I’m so optimistic that he will have a great season.”

Sterling is no longer among City’s five captains following a vote among players and staff this week. Ruben Dias has replaced him as third captain, with Ilkay Gundogan vice-captain behind Fernandinho.

Kevin De Bruyne, who represented players at meetings during the pandemic, is now fourth captain. Guardiola says he needs leaders throughout his team for them to be successful.

"Everyone has to be his own leader,” he said. “The way we’re going to play, I am the leader. The rest they have to be. That’s my discretion. Every season we make a selection of captains and for two or three seasons not just the players make the decisions - it’s the players, the staff, the backroom staff, all the people are in every day for 11 months and one week - so except for one week, with this incredible generosity that Uefa/Fifa give to the players of three weeks to rest, so thank you so much again.

"So 11 months and one week we are here all together so when everybody knows who are the best to represent. And they choose - all of us we choose our five captains - and there are players who are not selected and they are so, so important. Thinking about Scott Carson, you cannot imagine how important he is in our locker room and he is not the captain.

"There are many captains and they do not use the bracelet (armband) you know that. They don’t use it and they are captains. So that’s why this is not important, it’s for pictures. And I know every day in bad moments how the captains, how the players react in difficult situations and this is for me the real captains. And the selection was given, was perfect, exceptional and we are going to do it."

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