MANCHESTER, England — Pep Guardiola believes the criticism of Raheem Sterling is unfair, particularly after the fallout following Manchester City’s controversial penalty in the Champions League.
Referee Victor Kassai pointed to the spot in City’s 6-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday when Sterling tripped himself up, kicking the floor trying to chip the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.
But Sterling was criticised by some pundits, including former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand for not telling the referee that he should not award the penalty.
“I think in this time I realised that it is unfair because I don’t know why you should criticise Raheem,” Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby. “He was not diving. He wanted to make a chip and it was a mistake. People say it is ridiculous and he provoked a penalty. It was a bad decision from the referee. He didn’t do that.
“He is an incredible nice guy with incredible love from the locker room.”
But Guardiola is delighted with his progress on the pitch, which has seen him earn a new five-year deal, making him one of the best paid players at the club.
“It will make him stronger,” Guardiola added. “He is stronger than that — than he was when we met each other in the first year. Now he can control these kinds of emotions much better.
“We cannot forget, he is 23-years-old, when you are 23, you are not a full person or a full player. Sometimes we ask for, or we demand a lot from our players when they are so still young, but it is okay.”
City have the chance to extend the gap over United to 12 points with a win at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Guardiola will once again come up against Jose Mourinho and the Catalan says his old rival has shown his fighting spirit after United’s tough start to the season.
“I know I will be in the same position sooner or later,” Guardiola said. “I admire how the managers react in the tough moments, when you lose games.
“We are both in a similar position, in that the expectation on us is so high. We either win or we fail, always. We have to win all the titles we play for. It’s happened. We are quite similar in that situation. We keep going and keep going.
“The thing about football is that you always have another opportunity in the next game. If you are stable and you know what you have to do, always the success and the good games are coming. Always. Especially at the good clubs.
“Jose and myself are lucky as we have had success because we had exceptional players at exceptional clubs.”