Pep Guardiola has promised Raheem Sterling he will get plenty of opportunities to prove why he should be starting every match.
Sterling this week sparked speculation over his future at Manchester City by revealing he would be “open” to moving elsewhere if it meant more game time.
The England forward pointed out he was not complaining about his situation at the Etihad Stadium but his remarks have brought his recent lack of minutes for City into focus.
The 26-year-old lost his place as a regular starter towards the end of last season amid fierce competition for places. His position has not altered much this term, having started just two of the champions’ opening seven Premier League games.
It marks a change of fortune for a player who has been a key performer for Guardiola in recent years, and remains so for his country, but the City boss has backed him to come again.
Guardiola said: “He has all the skills to play in any of the three positions up front. He is so dynamic, he has the sense to arrive at the box and of course he scores goals – sometimes it’s the confidence.
“He is an exceptional player. He is in the national team. What a Euros he had! There are no doubts about that. He is playing with the top, top players as well.
“Sometimes I decide for the other ones but the moment I don’t play Phil (Foden) the press say, ‘oh Phil deserves to play’. When Jack (Grealish) doesn’t play, ‘You have to play Jack’.
“Riyad (Mahrez) was the best player in the league in the last four or five months, every game he played. He was in exceptional form.
“But it’s in the past. I don’t care. People judge me on what is going to happen tomorrow.
“It’s today, tomorrow, when you get the opportunity to play. Show me, show yourselves. Show the world how wrong I was when I was not selecting you and then you are right.
“The biggest speak on the pitch. They need to show me how good they are. The biggest athletes in the world, in all the sports, they speak on the grass.”
Sterling, who is contracted until the end of next season, made his comments at the FT Business of Sport US Summit on Thursday evening.
“If there was the opportunity to go somewhere else (for more game time), I would be open to it at this moment in time,” the former Liverpool winger said, adding that the challenge of playing abroad would appeal.
Guardiola insists he has no problem with players speaking about such issues, as long as they remain dedicated to their job.
He said: “We are in the free world and the players can speak and talk wherever they want, what they want. So from this, zero problems.
“What I want as a manager is to pull out, take out the best from Raheem every single time when he plays. This is what I want.”