“Next question,” said Pep Guardiola last month. “He’s a Tottenham Hotspurs player. Please.”
That was the Manchester City manager’s response after Harry Kane had dropped the bombshell that he wanted to leave Tottenham in search of silverware – and that he wouldn’t mind playing alongside Kevin De Bruyne in the process.
Guardiola has a strict policy of not discussing any players contracted to other clubs when it comes to transfers. He gave similar answers when City faced Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League this season and Erling Haaland was brought up: No comment.
However, Guardiola has previously expressed admiration for Kane, for Haaland, and also for Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. He often brings up opposition players he likes unprompted, as long as there is no link to transfers in the question or answer.
But Guardiola doesn’t just talk about any opposition player. He made a beeline for Leicester’s Harry Maguire in the season before City tried to sign him, and spoke positively about his defending.
Guardiola has also been seen talking to Grealish after games against Aston Villa, and openly praised the new England No.7.
“He’s an exceptional player, I didn’t know him before I came here, he was playing in the Championship. Honestly, an exceptional player,” Guardiola said before City faced Villa in January 2020.
That came after City’s win at Villa in October 2019, when Guardiola said of Grealish: “He’s incredible. A top player. I’m happy he stayed in the Championship to defend his club when he could have gone.
“He’s a talented player who always creates something. (Grealish) is an exceptional player but too expensive for Manchester!”
And when City booked a place in the Carabao Cup against Villa in 2020, Guardiola once again praised the player who is being heavily linked with a move to the Etihad this summer.
“They have one of the best players in the league in Jack Grealish,” he told reporters. “I’m a big fan of him.”
So we know Guardiola likes Grealish as a player – and he has certainly improved lots in the 2020/21 season to earn a place in England’s Euros squad.
However, the warning that Grealish is ‘too expensive for Manchester’ may hint that Guardiola has at least thought of signing the Villa captain.
Similarly, Guardiola has praised Kane long before refusing to comment on his transfer status.
As far back as 2017, Guardiola infamously referred to Tottenham as the ‘Harry Kane’ team.
He said then: “Of course this season has a little more problems because they [Chelsea] play every three days, that’s always more complicated for all the teams. “But we also have United, we saw again the Harry Kane team scores every day two or three goals.”
However, a year later, Guardiola offered a u-turn to that controversial statement, adding: “They showed me how wrong I was.”
Who should City prioritise this summer? Let us know in the comments.
The admiration for Kane didn’t go away, however. The next time he was asked about Tottenham’s strengths, he focussed on Kane’s ‘incredible’ abilities.
“I have said a thousand times since I came here in England about them, but of course Harry Kane, who can deny [his importance],” Guardiola said.
“He is number nine for the international team, he is an incredible striker and he has everything, right, left, movements, he keeps the ball and sets up the ball.
“He is intelligent and when he is in the box he does everything. He is a modern striker but, of course, it is not just Harry Kane in Tottenham, we know and we knew it, even if people didn’t believe me.”
And after Spurs beat City 2-0 this season, Guardiola went further and described Kane as ‘exceptional’ – similar to the praise Guardiola reserved for the ‘unstoppable’ Erling Haaland earlier this year.
“It’s my fifth season here so I was able to see him so many times,” he said of Kane. “An exceptional player and everybody knows it.”
So for every ‘no comment’ in a press conference, there are quotes from Guardiola praising the same player on his own terms. His admiration for both Kane and Grealish are both on record, and he has even hinted at what it would take to sign them.
After City confirmed Sergio Aguero’s exit, Guardiola suggested that a new forward is less likely at the current market rates.
He said: “I don’t know what is going to happen but at these prices we are not going to buy a striker. It’s impossible. We cannot afford it. All the clubs are struggling financially, us as well. Today there is more chance we will not buy a striker next season.”
“Maybe we are going to find a new player to replace him, but in terms of numbers? Impossible.”
That is a conundrum that City bosses will have to overcome this summer, and since Guardiola’s downbeat prediction, the club chairman has confirmed a high profile forward is the aim this summer – plus ‘other positions’ if needed.
One thing for sure, though, is that should Kane or Grealish arrive, the City hierarchy already know what Guardiola thinks of them both.