Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has respect for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as “one of the best players” despite their tempestuous year together at Barcelona.
Guardiola moved Ibrahimovic on to AC Milan on loan after the pair failed to see eye-to-eye at Camp Nou during the treble-winning 2009-10 season.
The 34-year-old former Sweden international took his rejection to heart, if subsequently labelling Guardiola as a “spineless coward” and “not a man” is anything to go by.
Ahead of Saturday’s Manchester derby, Ibrahimovic’s outspoken agent Mino Raiola chimed in with criticism of his own, but Guardiola praised the striker at his pre-match news conference.
“I have a lot of respect for what Zlatan has done for football,” he said, acknowledging Ibrahimovic’s impact of four goals in as many United appearances.
“He’s one of the best players and, of course, the best players impact the way they arrive in the clubs with the talent immediately.
“Some players have to understand the league – the best players do it quickly and he’s one of the best ones.”
Guardiola is looking forward to experiencing the Manchester derby first-hand having led Barca against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich versus Borussia Dortmund – two of European football’s undisputed showpiece occasions.
“With Barcelona and Madrid, every derby was the most beautiful derby in the world. Every year was the best, the previous one it was not the best.
“Let me live this derby and after I can tell you how it can compare with Spain and Munich.
“I think that for the media on both sides, especially in Spain and here it’s similar. A lot of people talking good and bad things – thousands of hours of analysis of what is going to happen.
“And that’s nice for the people who are involved in that – the painters and the writers can live it as their jobs.
“The people around the work can talk about their books, their talents – we’re fortunate to live here and experience that.
“I’m so, so happy to be here for the first time of my life to be here in the Premier League and we are going to try to do our best.”
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