MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Manchester City were offered the chance to sign Manchester United's Paul Pogba during the January transfer window, according to City manager Pep Guardiola.
"I said no. We don't have the money to buy Pogba because he is so expensive," Guardiola told reporters on Friday (April 6) as he attacked the conduct of agent Mino Raiola.
Guardiola, who stressed he thought Pogba an "incredible player", also suggested Raiola offered him then United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan shortly before his move to Arsenal in part-exchange for Alexis Sanchez.
City will win this season's Premier League title if they beat second-placed United at the Etihad on Saturday.
Pogba has endured a troubled season at Old Trafford, and is by no means guaranteed to be in the starting line-up for the Manchester derby.
He responded to Guardiola's revelations by posting a picture of himself on his Twitter feed with a hand cupped to his ear during a United training session, captioned "Say what?"
United manager Jose Mourinho indicated in late March that it was up to Pogba to explain why his form has been so inconsistent in recent months, declaring it was nothing to do with the France midfielder's early-season injury problems.
There is no suggestion that United had given their approval for Pogba - signed for a club-record fee of £89 million (S$165 million) from Juventus in 2016 - to be offered to City.
Guardiola's ire was aimed solely at Raiola, with whom he has had a long-running feud dating back to the days when the Catalan coach was the manager of Barcelona.
'RESPECT THE DOGS'
That feud was reignited two weeks ago when Raiola called Guardiola a "zero", a "coward" and a "dog" after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of his clients, moved from United to join the LA Galaxy.
Raiola has long believed Guardiola forced Ibrahimovic out of Barcelona in 2011, a year before they won the European Champions League - a competition the Sweden forward has never won.
"Finally, the people discover my secrets - I am a bad guy, I'm a coward," Guardiola said Friday with heavy sarcasm. "But two months ago he (Raiola) offered me Mhkitaryan and Pogba to play with us. Why?
"So if I'm a bad guy, and he (Raiola) has to protect his players, then he has to know he cannot bring the players (to) a guy like me, who is a dog.
"Comparing someone to a dog is bad. It's not good. He has to respect the dogs."
'TOP PLAYERS COST'
City are currently 16 points ahead of United, although they did suffer a shock 3-0 loss to Premier League rivals Liverpool in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final tie at Anfield on Wednesday.
But amid criticism that City are 'buying their way' to trophies, Guardiola, also a former manager of German giants Bayern Munich, defended his level of spending as necessary to ensure success.
Guardiola has paid out around £500 million for players since arriving at the Etihad Stadium in 2016, but does not believe that is excessive.
"I am so, so happy with what we have done this year," he said.
"So, so happy. It's impossible to do that, to play the way we play, the results we achieved, without top players. It's impossible. And today the top players cost a lot of money.
"When the people say, 'You win because you spend 600 million euros', I don't know how much money we spent in two years. But it is impossible to do it without money.
"When people you say, 'You can do that, Pep, what you have done in Barcelona or Bayern Munich without those players, is it possible to do that?' No, it's impossible, so be calm.
"Maybe in two years we spent more - but over an average of five or 10 years, a lot of teams spend a lot of money," he insisted.