AFP/Manchester, United Kingdom
Manchester City can become English champions for the fifth time if they beat Manchester United on Saturday -- and Pep Guardiola's claim he was offered Paul Pogba has added to the occasion.
A City side that has lost just once in the league all season will seal their third Premier League title in seven seasons unless Jose Mourinho's side can throw a spanner in the works in what promises to be a memorable Manchester derby.
Liverpool's 3-0 defeat of City in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday took some gloss off their impending coronation, but Guardiola has come out fighting by taunting United with the claim he was given the chance to sign the club's record signing Paul Pogba in January.
‘I said no. We don't have the money to buy Pogba because he is so expensive,’ Guardiola told reporters on Friday as he attacked the conduct of Pogba's agent Mino Raiola.
Guardiola, who stressed he thought Pogba was an ‘incredible player’, also suggested Raiola offered him then-United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan shortly before Arsenal signed him instead in part-exchange for the deal that took Alexis Sanchez to Old Trafford.
Pogba, who joined United for £89 million ($125 million, 102 million euros) from Juventus in 2016, has endured a wretched season and is by no means guaranteed to be in the starting line-up on Saturday.
The French midfielder responded to Guardiola's revelations with a picture on Twitter cupping his hand to his ear, captioned ‘Say what?’
United manager Jose Mourinho indicated last month that it was up to Pogba to explain why his form has been so inconsistent in recent months.
There is no suggestion that United had given their approval for Pogba to be offered to City and Guardiola's ire appeared to be aimed solely at Raiola -- the two men have feuded since the Catalan coach was managing Barcelona.
Raiola believes Guardiola forced another of his clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, out of Barcelona in 2011.
Their row was reignited two weeks ago when Raiola called Guardiola a ‘zero’, a ‘coward’ and a ‘dog’ for the way he treats his players.
‘Comparing someone to a dog is bad. It's not good. He has to respect the dogs,’ Guardiola said with heavy sarcasm on Friday.
Mourinho has not commented on the Pogba claims, but he said although it would not be ‘the end of the world’ if United lost, ‘we don't want to offer them the game’.
‘We want to go there and want to compete and win the match if possible.’
- Emirati riches -
Despite Guardiola's suggestion that City could not stretch to Pogba's price tag, the investment by their owners from Abu Dhabi, who took over in 2008, has been phenomenal.
The CIES Football Observatory estimates that the current City squad, including Sergio Aguero and contender for player of the year Kevin De Bruyne, cost 878 million euros ($1.07 billion) to assemble.
That financial firepower has put City 16 points ahead of second-placed United.
Guardiola, also a former manager of German giants Bayern Munich, has himself splashed out nearly 600 million euros in his time in northwest England, but he defended the level of spending.
‘I am so, so happy with what we have done this year,’ he said. ‘It's impossible to do that, to play the way we play, the results we achieved, without top players. It's impossible. And today the top players cost a lot of money.
‘When the people say, 'You win because you spend 600 million euros', I don't know how much money we spent in two years. But it is impossible to do it without money.
‘When people you say, 'You can do that, Pep, what you have done in Barcelona or Bayern Munich without those players, is it possible to do that?' No, it's impossible, so be calm.’
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