Pep Guardiola believes Raheem Sterling can reach the level of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
England manager Gareth Southgate this week said the Manchester City forward has the potential to become as good as the multiple Ballon d’Or winners after two fine displays in the recent international break.
His club boss Guardiola has now backed up those claims – although the Spaniard has given mixed messages on whether he believes Sterling should read much into such hype.
Sterling, 24, has made a blistering start to the new season, scoring eight goals in seven games for club and country.
“I’m so happy for him, for the way he’s playing here and with the national team, but hopefully he won’t read too much,” said Guardiola at a press conference on Friday.
“He cannot listen to these kind of things – that wouldn’t be good for him, because nobody can compare with Cristiano or Messi.
“I’m so happy with what he’s done since we’ve been together, not just right now. Everything that has happened to him has been good because he has an incredible work ethic and is an incredibly nice guy. I’m delighted for him.”
However, later in the same press conference, Guardiola appeared to suggest that what he says to Sterling in private might be different.
He said: “It would be a dream for him for all of us. If Raheem can target that level – wow.
“We will be here to help him and of course he can do it but I will not be the guy to put limits to cancel it, to say don’t think about that. No, absolutely not – I want it.
“But right now, nobody but not in this club, or in all the clubs in the world, can compare with these two guys and what they have done every single week during 10 years.
“They are absolute legends and nobody can compare, nobody.”
Guardiola, speaking ahead of the Premier League champions’ trip to Norwich on Saturday, revealed he expects defender Aymeric Laporte to be sidelined until January or February after undergoing knee surgery last week.
John Stones is fit to return at Carrow Road after a thigh injury but, after the departure of Vincent Kompany at the end of last season, City are short of specialist centre-backs.
That has raised speculation the club may look to buy in the January transfer window but Guardiola has played that down.
He said: “My advice to you is not to write too many names about the winter transfer window because you are going to make a mistake. I don’t think it’s going to happen.
“I heard already we are interested in this player or the other player but I would like to say to all the clubs in the world don’t be nervous, because we are not interested in any players or central defenders in Europe.
“We are going to survive with the players we have.”
Arsenal will be without forward Alexandre Lacazette until October due to injury, but boss Unai Emery is more than happy to keep giving opportunities to the younger members of his squad.
Midfielder Joe Willock signed a new long-term contract with the Premier League club on Wednesday and he is one of many academy graduates to have featured under the Spaniard since he took charge last summer.
Forward Reiss Nelson, 19, is another to have earned a shot in the starting XI this season and Lacazette’s ankle injury – revealed by the club after Emery’s press conference – should present Nelson with more chances, starting with Sunday’s clash at Watford.
“It’s our philosophy and our idea to give them chances to be with us in training and taking confidence and playing minutes and if they achieve the performance we want, then continuing,” Emery said, when asked about his young players.
“They can take experience being with us, training with us, playing with us and also helping them with our experienced players and sharing with those players our way.”
He added: “Every player needs their first experience. For me it’s training with us every day, giving them chances to show us first their spirit, then their wish and after their performance.
“We can analyse our pre-season, a lot of young players deserved to be with us and we can help them to be with us and take more minutes in the Premier League, cups and Europa League matches.”
Emery confirmed club-record signing Nicolas Pepe should be available for the fixture at Vicarage Road, despite not going away with the Ivory Coast on international duty.
The goalscoring onus will fall on the former Lille attacker and Real Madrid loanee Dani Cellebos – plus Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – with Lacazette sidelined until October.
On Pepe, Emery said: “We decided to keep him here with us and we were working with him to have him ready for Sunday and we think he will be.
“We need people to be patient with him and also help him to be comfortable, to know us, to know the opposition teams.
“Each training and each match is very important to be ready and to achieve their (Pepe and Cellebos) performance. I really think the progress is perfect.”
Arsenal are likely to come up against ex-player Danny Welbeck on Sunday, who joined Watford in August on a free transfer after five seasons at the Emirates.
He was one of Javi Gracia’s final signings at Vicarage Road before he was sacked last weekend following a poor run of form and replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores.
Emery added: “Danny’s an amazing person and a very good player. He had that injury and he finished here and now he is at Watford and I wish him the best.”
Welbeck was one of 10 first-teamers to leave Arsenal permanently this summer, although defender Shkodran Mustafi did not depart.
He was expected to leave before the European transfer window shut on September 2, but decided to stay with the Gunners and Emery insists he is now firmly part of his plans moving forward.
“Some players left and we didn’t decide that option at the beginning. When they left it was because we decided we can continue in our way with different options. Mustafi decided to be here and when he decided to be here he’s like another player,” Emery said.
“I respect his decision. When he decided I spoke to him and said ‘you’re one more in the squad, I’m going to work with you as other players’.
“Since he decided to stay here he’s working every day with a big motivation and good spirit.”
Midfielder Billy Gilmour has signed a new four-year deal with Chelsea.
The 18-year-old Scot made his Premier League debut for the Blues in their 2-2 draw with Sheffield United before the international break.
“It’s really exciting for me and my family to sign this four-year deal with the club,” he told Chelsea’s official website.
Gilmour added praise for manager Frank Lampard, adding: “Frank has come in and everyone is buzzing, training is really good and there’s a high standard to everything we do.
“There are exciting times ahead and hopefully I can work hard to get more opportunities as well.”
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