Pep Guardiola attacked his rivals for what he claimed had been a “whispering” campaign against Manchester City after describing the decision to overturn its two-year ban from European competition as a “great day for football.”
The City manager gave a robust defense of the club following arguably its biggest win of the season on Monday, when sport’s highest court upheld the appeal against a UEFA ban for serious breaches of finance monitoring rules.
Guardiola said his club was owed an apology by those rivals — he didn’t specify which ones — who said City “cheated and were lying — many, many times."
“The presumption of innocence was not there," Guardiola said. "And after, when (the decision) happened and it was right, of course we are incredibly happy because we can defend what we have done on the pitch.”
Turning on City's critics, Guardiola said: “When you are not agreeing, just knock on the door — to our chairman, our CEO — and talk. Don’t go from behind, whispering ... seven, eight, nine clubs, doing this behind (our backs). Go and do it on the pitch. Go and try it. Not behind.
“I would say to this kind of people, ‘OK, look in our eyes and say something face to face.’”
In the space of an hour, Guardiola and the two other most high-profile managers in the Premier League — Tottenham's Jose Mourinho and Liverpool's Jürgen Klopp — spoke openly and passionately in Zoom calls about an issue that has caused fierce debate throughout soccer.
In the stunning decision, three CAS judges said some UEFA allegations that City violated finance rules dating back several years were not proven and others were “time-barred” because they were beyond a five-year statute of limitations.
City wasn’t completely exonerated, as some potential UEFA evidence was ruled out of being considered. CAS also said the club failed to cooperate with UEFA and therefore was issued a fine of 10 million euros ($11 million), albeit one reduced from the initial 30 million euros sanction imposed by UEFA’s judicial branch.
Mourinho, who has had a long rivalry with Guardiola in both English and Spanish soccer, questioned why City received a fine if the club was proved not guilty of the financial breaches.
“It’s a disgraceful decision,” Mourinho said. “If Man City is not guilty of it, to be punished by some million is a disgrace.
“If you’re not guilty, you’re not punished. In the other way, if you’re guilty you should be banned. So it’s also a disgraceful decision. In any case, it’s a disaster. If you’re not guilty, you don’t pay.”
Klopp, meanwhile, spoke of his concern for the future of financial fair play rules, which he said was a “good idea” to protect teams and competitions, and said: “I don’t think it was a good day for football.”
“If nobody has to care anymore, at all," he added, “then the richest people or countries can do what they want in football and that would make the competition really difficult.”
In fact, the Liverpool manager was happy to see City — his team’s biggest rival in the Premier League — eligible for next season’s Champions League once again.
“From a personal point of view, I am happy that City can play Champion League next year,” Klopp said, smiling, “because if I think about the (English) league and if City has 10-12 games less for resting players, I don’t see any chance for any teams in the league.”
For Guardiola, the CAS ruling was proof that City has played by the same rules as its rivals in England and in Europe.
“I said many times, if we did something wrong, we accept our ban, from any departments — FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League, the FA,” he said. “We are here. But we can defend ourselves.”
In what was perhaps a veiled retort to Klopp, Guardiola added: “Yesterday was a great day for football, not a bad day for football.”
Guardiola even took aim at Javier Tebas, the president of Spain’s La Liga, who said CAS was “not up to standard.”
“He’s another one, this guy Señor Tebas must be so jealous for the Premier League, English football,” Guardiola said. “He is an incredible legal expert from what I see, so next time we will ask in which court, with which judges, we have to go.
“He has to be a little bit worried or concerned about La Liga. Focus on there. ... We will be in the Champions League next season, Señor Tebas, because what we did, we did it properly.”
Guardiola has one more season left on his deal at City. Winning the appeal has not made him change his plans on potentially extending his stay at the club, he said.
“Now is not the time,” he said. “We have one month ahead of us (this season) and then one year.
“For a manager, it is a long, long time and the decisions we thought to do before the sentence was quite similar to now.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80