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Pep Guardiola and Leroy Sane rally around Manchester City teammate Raheem Sterling

'The criticism when he plays bad, everyone is exposed to that - but just for the colour of his skin?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and winger Leroy Sane during the press conference ahead of Wednesday's match against Hoffenheim. Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and winger Leroy Sane during the press conference ahead of Wednesday's match against Hoffenheim. Reuters

Pep Guardiola was flanked by Leroy Sane, but Manchester City’s week has revolved around another winger. Raheem Sterling appeared to be racially abused at Chelsea on Saturday. He has responded to those who have vilified him over the years with an eloquent statement highlighting the enduring problem of racism.

If Sterling has been maligned elsewhere, he has long been supported at the Etihad Stadium. Guardiola and Sane praised a footballer and a man who has earned their admiration. “I think it is sad it happens still,” said the German Sane. “We all support Raheem and are on his side. He is a strong guy, a good guy, he knows how to handle it and he is not letting this more stupid stuff get him down.”

Guardiola added: "He's an incredible person, an incredible human being. It's tough to understand today what happened to black people in all history. It's tough in the 21st century to still be in this position. Racism is everywhere. The criticism when he plays bad, everyone is exposed to that - but just for the colour of his skin? Believe me, that's ridiculous and we have to protect [him] from that situation.”

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Read more:

Chelsea suspend four fans after Sterling racial abuse row

Public opinion appears to turn for Raheem Sterling but will this be a watershed moment?

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If Sterling has raised his profile on the pitch with his prolific exploits, delivering 32 goals and 20 assists for City since the start of last season and helping England reach the World Cup semi-finals, Guardiola feels he has heeded his advice to lower it in his private life. “I spoke with him when I arrived, he was active on social media and I told him to protect his life, and he did,” explained the City manager. “He's less active, he's more mature. He has two kids.”

Sterling is likely to assume a prominence again on Wednesday, when City require a point against Hoffenheim to ensure they take top Group F. It is partly because Guardiola hardly has the opportunity to take him out of the limelight. “We have 15 players available so I cannot do too much [rotating],” the City manager explained.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling appeared to be racially abused during the game against Chelsea on Saturday. EPA
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling appeared to be racially abused during the game against Chelsea on Saturday. EPA

The cast list of absentees has expanded. Benjamin Mendy and Claudio Bravo were already out. Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are not ready to return, though the striker may be fit for Saturday’s clash with Everton. Now Danilo and David Silva are also injured, with the midfielder out for three weeks with a muscular problem.

It could afford an opportunity to Phil Foden, who on Monday signed a contract until 2024. “We convince him because we believe he is something unique, a special player,” Guardiola said. “We are going to help him to become a better player and he is going to help us become a better team. He is an incredible fighter and a Manchester City fan, so it is a perfect deal.”

Perhaps Foden’s promise helps explain why City will not be bidding for another technically gifted midfielder. They have been linked with the Spain international Saul Niguez. “He is a fantastic player but we are not interested in him,” Guardiola said. “He is an Atletico Madrid player and he is going to stay there for a long time.”

If Sane gets his wish, he will remain at the Etihad for a similarly lengthy spell. His current deal expires in 2021 but the club and the winger’s representatives are in talks about an extension.

“From the beginning since I arrived here, I am really happy,” said the German. “I enjoy playing a lot with the coach, with the players; they are all amazing. I feel really at home here from day one and of course it is possible.” Sane spent some of the early weeks of the season on the bench but he insisted: “Even if I am not playing for a certain time, I am still happy to be here.”

And, indeed, Guardiola was a picture of contentment as he shrugged off City’s first league defeat of the season at Stamford Bridge.

“In all the sports, the big teams and big athletes lose games,” Guardiola said. “It happened two centuries ago. You accept it and move on. Maybe it will help us in future, or maybe not. The most valuable thing is the fact we won a lot during a long time. The day after we trained, a bit more sad than normal - but that's normal when we lose. But it is unusual not to lose a game. What's unusual is what we have done in the last 15 or 16 months.”

And as one unbeaten run ended, City look to start another.

Updated: December 12, 2018 11:25 AM

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