Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has admitted he may have hindered Alexis Sanchez’s development during their time together at Barcelona.
Guardiola must find a way to combat the Chile playmaker as his Manchester City side host title rivals Arsenal in a crunch Premier League clash on Sunday.
Sanchez has been in blistering form for the Gunners this season and has revelled in a central role, scoring 14 times including a brilliant hat-trick against West Ham earlier this month.
Guardiola readily acknowledges his excellence but concedes he failed to coax such consistency out of him after signing him for Barca for £30million in 2011. Sanchez eventually moved to the Emirates Stadium three years later.
Guardiola said: “He played really good in Barcelona but normally when you play with (Lionel) Messi all the players beside him are not at his level.
“I think the position Arsenal are using him as a striker, in front, it is perfect for him. In Barcelona maybe I didn’t help him too much because he played wide. He can do that but he is better between the lines, closer to the goal.
“In some moments he played there, especially one game against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals. He played as a striker and after 40 minutes we went 2-0 up but it was an unlucky game and we lost and Chelsea reached the final.
“He can play there and in several positions – left, right. He is a fighter in spirit, he is a character, he is a winner. He is a class, class player and now he is playing really well.”
City were recently linked with two-time Copa America winner Sanchez, who is in contract discussions with Arsenal, but Guardiola would not comment on the speculation.
This weekend’s encounter brings Guardiola up against Arsene Wenger, whose work over 20 years at Arsenal he regards very highly.
Guardiola said: “In terms of results, Arsene won titles. We cannot forget that and they created something special at his clubs.
“He arrived (at) the Gunners – it wasn’t a special team. Now after 20 years we know exactly the identity of this club and that sometimes is much more important than winning titles.”
Wenger won three Premier League titles in his early years at Arsenal but, with the last of them in 2004, Gunners fans often appear split on whether they think the Frenchman should stay on. There have even been protests on occasions but Guardiola feels this is something all managers – himself included – have to accept.
Guardiola, who won 21 trophies with Barca and Bayern Munich, said: “Now I have a song in Manchester City, but if we are not going to win – no song any more. In football you have to win.
“The fans pay for a ticket, to go to see a show, so when they don’t like it, they express their feelings. You have to accept that. If you don’t accept that, move on.”
Guardiola’s reputation, regardless of success, should ensure he survives at City for a while yet – but whatever happens, he insists he will not be able to replicate Wenger’s longevity.
He said: “That is not going to happen. I am not going to train in 20 more years. In my case I like to move, see new things. Everyone is everyone but, 20 years – no way!”