Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has been savaged online for claiming that he cannot afford to replace Sergio Aguero – even though the departing striker is a huge earner and the club’s Abu Dhabi owners are worth billions.
Stern-faced Guardiola issued one of football’s most unlikely sob stories ahead of the weekend’s Premier League fixtures, claiming that the club owned by Sheikh Mansour – a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi whose wealth has been recently estimated at around $20 billion – cannot afford a striker.
Guardiola’s words fell flat with fans, who expressed cynicism after the club’s net spend of around $832 million during the five years to last June, which dwarfed next-nearest English big-spenders Manchester United’s total of around $670 million.
“Sorry, we are not going to sign any striker,” said Guardiola, shaking his head when he was asked about his squad plans in the aftermath of hugely prolific hitman Sergio Aguero announcing that he will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
“It’s impossible. We cannot afford it. It’s impossible.”
Irrespective of the club’s vast wealth, the departure of Aguero is expected to ease City’s wage bill by at least $318,000 a week.
The league leaders are widely thought to be one of the frontrunners to sign Lionel Messi should the six-time Ballon d’Or winner leave Barcelona in the summer, with any deal likely to make the Argentina striker the highest-paid player in the Premier League.
Skeptics suggested that top tactician Guardiola’s words could be a ploy to improve City’s negotiating position with agents such as Mino Raiola, who is widely reported to have flown in for talks over a move for Erling Haaland with Champions League rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid this week.
Guardiola, who took a cut to his $27.6 million salary as the pandemic hit revenues last year, said that the global crisis was to blame for his funding problems.
“All the clubs are stuggling financially,” Guardiola complained, having described master marksman Aguero as “irreplaceable”. “We are not an exception.”
City Football Group, whose main stakeholders are the Abu Dhabi group and own a litany of other football clubs including Melbourne City and New York City, was said to have revenues of around $880 million in 2019.
Sheikh Mansour is thought to be worth almost $9 billion more than the next wealthiest owner of a Premier League club, Chelsea’s Russian chief Roman Abramovich.
Four-time Premier League winner Aguero cost City around $48 million when he joined from Atletico Madrid in 2011.