Pep Guardiola has hit back at Gary Neville after the former Manchester United defender branded as an “absolute joke” his decision to deny a youth team player a place in Manchester City’s match-day squad last weekend by only naming six substitutes against Burnley.
Neville claimed he could “guarantee” City’s youth and reserve team coaches would have felt “disheartened” by the move and wonder if they were “wasting [their] time”.
But Guardiola launched a staunch defence of his decision and took the opportunity to take a sarcastic swipe at Neville’s ill-fated spell in management with Valencia and subsequent return to Sky Sports as a “prestigious pundit”.
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With injuries to numerous first team players, Guardiola said he had opted against naming an academy player as his seventh substitute at Turf Moor because City’s Under-23 team played against Swansea the previous night and he did not want to disrupt their plans.
Guardiola claimed Neville “should know that because he was a manager – for a short time”, a patronising reference to Neville’s failed four month spell in charge of Valencia, where he was sacked in March 2016.
“This guy, the pundit, he has to know my job is serious, it’s not a joke, never is it a joke. It’s so serious,” the City manager said. “And he should know that because he was a manager - for a short time.”
Asked if he had been hurt by Neville’s criticism, Guardiola replied, sarcastically: “A lot. You cannot imagine. A lot.
“It’s quite simple we had a lot of injuries. We had that day a training session at four in the afternoon. At the same time five or six of the players I could have taken, had a game here [at the Etihad Campus].
“It was just one or two hours later and it would not have been correct to go the manager who is preparing for the game and say ‘I need one or two players to go on the bench’ when they are going to play. For that reason, I didn’t call him.”
Asked if he would name six players again in the same circumstances, Guardiola said: “I don’t know. Management is not a book where every time you do the same things. Sometimes the full backs go inside, sometimes outside.
“Sometimes I speak to the players in one way and another day in another way. All the managers do the same. It’s not a book where you have to follow the rules. Sometimes I say, ‘OK, I take that decision’ and of course the prestigious pundit can say whatever he wants. But I take the decisions.”
Guardiola reiterated that he felt he had taken the correct course of action. “It was the first time in my life but all of the players were injured, believe me.
“David [Silva] was not, John Stones was not fit. David trained with us that day at 4 in the afternoon but during the session, he said, ‘I am not ready’, and after that I went to the second team.
“But the second team in an hour and a half were going to play a game so I felt I’m not going to call the player to go to the bench when the substitute is normally another one. That is the reason why I don’t call one up. It was the first time in my life and an exception. If the training session had been at 11 in the morning, I’d have had 18 [in my squad] but it’s not a big issue.”
Guardiola had first signalled his irritation with Neville at his press conference when he declared he would be naming an 18-man squad to face Leicester City on Saturday night.
“We’ll be 18,” Guardiola said. “Gary Neville can be happy. I am happy.”