(Reuters) - Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola appeared unfazed by his winger Raheem Sterling’s decision to pose with a Real Madrid shirt on the front of Spanish newspaper AS in an interview where he discussed the possibility of a move to the Spanish capital.
City play Real in Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League next week and the winger, has been linked with a possible move to Real, speculation which has intensified after City’s two year UEFA ban from European football.
Asked whether he would like to play for Madrid in the future, Sterling said: “How do I answer that one? Is the camera live or is it just taking pictures?
“No one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at City and I’m really happy. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this.
“Real Madrid are a fantastic club. When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive.”
Sterling featured on the cover of the newspaper with a Real shirt and City shirt hanging over each shoulder.
Guardiola was asked at Friday’s press conference what he felt about the interview and appeared unperturbed.
“The players are free to talk and say what they believe and what they think,” he said. “So we are not here to tell them what they have to say. It’s normal to make an interview for the Madrid media and speak about Madrid.”
Guardiola said despite the ban, City’s players remain fully committed and focused on the rest of the season.
City were banned from European competition for the next two seasons and fined 30 million euros ($32.42 million) by European soccer’s governing body UEFA last week after an investigation into alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.
City will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but it has not stopped media speculation about players potentially leaving the English champions if the ban is upheld.
“I am completely sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many, many years,” Guardiola told reporters ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Leicester City.
“No one knows what will happen, but right now the commitment for the last three months, every single game, I don’t have any doubts... We cannot change what people think. I know how hard we work. I am so proud about how hard we’ve worked all these years.
“No one helped us outside, we did it day by day, game by game. This is not finished, it’s not over. We appeal as a club and we see what happens.”
City are in action on Saturday against Leicester City, who are third in the standings, four points behind City.
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge