Pep Guardiola claims he was always honest with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during their time together at Barcelona ahead of an eagerly anticipated reunion in Saturday’s Manchester derby.
Ibrahimovic played one season under Guardiola in 2009-10 before being moved on to AC Milan in a loan deal and subsequently offered withering criticism of the Manchester City boss in his autobiography.
The Manchester United striker’s agent, Mino Raiola, fired barbs of his own in Guardiola’s direction this week in the build-up to the Old Trafford showdown, but the former Bayern Munich boss elected to take the high ground.
“He explained in his book about what he believes,” Guardiola told reporters. “But always I was clear. I spoke with him always face-to-face, always.
“I never used the media to explain what I wanted from Zlatan on the pitch, never.
“The people can say many, many things, but I was so clear and direct to him.”
Ibrahimovic’s involvement provides an intriguing sub-plot to Guardiola and Jose Mourinho renewing their Clasico rivalry across the Manchester divide.
Since joining on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old has scored four times in as many United appearances and his mercurial presence has drawn comparisons with Old Trafford great Eric Cantona.
Enigmatic French forward Cantona helped to inspire United’s mid-90s period of dominance under Alex Ferguson and cast a long shadow over the Manchester derby, scoring eight times in seven matches against City and never finishing on the losing side.
“Every player makes his own story and for the people around them there will always be talks, they will compare the players and say it was like this and that,” Ibrahimovic told reporters.
“But I take [comparisons with Cantona] as a compliment because he had a fantastic story and history with the club that nobody will take away.
“It will remain in the history books and in the supporters’ hearts for a long time, so I take it as a compliment.
“But I think every player has his own story, so to compare a story with another story would not be fair, because I’m not in the same team as that time and he’s not on the same team like I am now.”