Saturday, April 13, 2024

Pep Guardiola defends ‘best striker in the world’ Erling Haaland after criticism

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 2 Apr 2024

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Pep Guardiola labelled Erling Haaland the “best striker in the world” after the Manchester City frontman was likened to a League Two player by Roy Keane.

The former Manchester United captain made the observation in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports after Haaland drew a blank in City’s goalless draw against Premier League title rivals Arsenal on Sunday.

Keane concurred Haaland, top of the scoring charts after winning last season’s Golden Boot, is in a class of his own in front of goal but added his all-round game is “almost like a League Two player”.

Guardiola was unimpressed by the remarks, arguing Haaland was instrumental in City’s treble success last season before insisting any blame for not scoring against Arsenal should be shared by the team.

“I don’t agree with him, absolutely not,” Guardiola said. “He’s the best striker in the world and he helped us to win what we won last season. Erling is exceptional.

“The reason we don’t create chances is not because of Erling. The standards that Erling has are unbelievable and everyone expects other things.

“There are games where he could be better but I knew during the game against Arsenal that the reason why we were not creating chances was not because of Erling.

“We needed more presence in the box. If we had that Erling would have more space. It happens sometimes. If you want to score goals, bring a lot of players to the opponent keeper, it is as simple as that.”

Guardiola, whose side welcome top-four hopefuls Aston Villa on Wednesday evening, admitted he is routinely bemused by former players offering scathing views about contemporary footballers.

However, the Spaniard accepts that criticism comes with the territory of being a high-profile professional footballer.

“If you don’t want to accept that as a football player, you have to dedicate yourself to another job,” Guardiola said. “When you are a public figure, you have to accept it.

“That’s why when you are in contract talks, you have to ask for a lot of money to accept those moments.

“I’m surprised it comes from former players. With journalists I can understand because they have never been on the pitch but the former players is always a surprise (when they are critical).”

When asked if he could see himself becoming a pundit in the future, Guardiola added: “I don’t know what is going to happen but I am not the guy who is going to criticise my colleagues when I retire.”

Guardiola sarcastically quipped his “ego” was the driving factor behind a heated on-pitch exchange with Jack Grealish following the full-time whistle after the Arsenal match.

Grealish has had a reduced role this season, partly through injuries, but Guardiola believes the England midfielder could have an impact as the season reaches the business end.

“I have the feeling that he’s back – in mood and training and desire,” Guardiola added. “Now I’m pleased.

“I’ve only asked the players to be ready and be themselves, it doesn’t matter if they perform at the highest level or less. We need everyone with the title schedule.”

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