Pep Guardiola irked claims he tried to poach Lionel Messi from Barcelona

Pep Guardiola was irritated on his return to Barcelona by suggestions he tried to poach the Camp Nou’s finest for Manchester City this summer.

But the former Barca boss claimed it was not beyond the realms of possibility that superstar Lionel Messi could play in England one day.

Guardiola, who won 14 trophies in four glorious years in charge of Barca, was speaking at the Camp Nou ahead of City’s Champions League clash with the Catalan giants.

The 45-year-old has already signed goalkeeper Claudio Bravo from his old club since arriving at City and was also interested in fellow stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

But he insisted that is as far as his interest in former Barca players went when the subject was raised by a local journalist.

Guardiola said: “If you are talking about this summer, I never called Messi. 

“I never called Neymar, Luis Suarez, Busquets, Iniesta — I didn’t call anybody.

“As for Ter Stegen I knew he wanted to play all the time. We got in touch. He wasn’t happy with his situation.

“We needed a goalkeeper like Claudio or Ter Stegen. Claudio came and Ter Stegen decided to stay.

“If I ever called a player playing in any other club it would be in a special situation of not playing, and it would be my right to. 

“It is okay, I could have phoned someone if he was not playing, but I never called Leo Messi.

“In the case of Leo I really wish him to play here and finish his career here (at Barcelona).

“But maybe he will think, ‘Okay I want to go play somewhere else’ because maybe he wants his kids to speak English or live a different experience, like happened to many of us.

“Maybe it could happen, but if he decides to go and it happens, there would be a list of seven or eight clubs that would want to sign him, and it would be down to him. 

“Messi will decide where to go.”

Not surprisingly, Guardiola has been the focus of attention ahead of the game after spending most of his illustrious career in playing and management with Barca.

He said: “I came back with Bayern but it’s always special for me to sit here.

“I’ve spent time here, this stadium is part of my life, I grew up here. It’s always special when I see people who I like to see. When you travel around, you remember places for the people you met.

“It’s a good test for us to play against the best team.”

City go into the game second in Group C, behind Barca, after being held to a draw by Celtic in their last outing.

Guardiola said: “We need points. If you lose two points against the fourth (seeded team) in your group you are forced to wait until the last matchday to progress to the next round.

“We are going to play against one of the best teams in the world and we have to see how we respond. It is not a friendly game. We need the points.”

Guardiola admits there can be no special plan to counter Barca’s weapons.

Asked what he could say to his players to stop Messi, he said: “I don’t know what instructions I can give the players to control the talent.

“Ninety minutes is a long time. They will have a moment and they are so precise they don’t need to create a lot of chances to score a goal. It is a good test for us, to know our level against — for me — the best team.”

City were beaten by Barca in the last 16 of the competition in both 2014 and 2015 and defender Pablo Zabaleta is well aware of the size of the task this time.

He said: “You need to perform at the same level — you cannot make mistakes and you must take opportunities.

“You need a perfect game to beat Barcelona, that is the key. You don’t win here easily. There will be moments you will suffer — hopefully not too much.”

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