Pep Guardiola has sarcastically claimed he is jealous of Erling Haaland in a blunt retort to another dig from old adversary Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Veteran former Barcelona striker Ibrahimovic has suggested Haaland will only continue to flourish at Manchester City if manager Guardiola tempers his ego.
Ibrahimovic fell out with Guardiola over a decade ago during the Catalan’s time in charge at the Nou Camp and has remained critical in the years since.
In his autobiography, Ibrahimovic likened himself to a Ferrari that needed premium fuel and should be driven flat out on the motorway, but complained that Guardiola treated him like a diesel-filled Fiat in the countryside.
The Swede’s latest salvo came as he reflected on fellow forward Haaland’s stunning start at the Etihad Stadium, with the Norwegian having scored 22 goals in 16 City appearances.
Ibrahimovic told Canal+: “Is Guardiola able to improve him? That depends on the ego that Guardiola has, if he allows himself to be bigger than Haaland or not. He didn’t allow me or the others to be as big.”
Guardiola clearly did not want to get drawn into a war of words with the 41-year-old, who is now at AC Milan, as he reflected on his comments at a press conference on Friday.
With tongue apparently in cheek, Guardiola said: “He is right, he is completely right. In this club, in this team, my ego is beyond every other person, every player!
“I don’t like it when Erling scores three goals, and all the highlight is for him. I am so jealous! Honestly, so jealous!
“I said, ‘Erling, please no more goals, otherwise The Sun and Daily Mail won’t talk about me, and just about me. He is right, he knows me perfectly. He can write another book.”
When it was suggested Guardiola might be being sarcastic, he responded: “No. I am right in what I am saying. My ego is… phwoosh.”
Meanwhile, Guardiola believes Liverpool remain a strong threat to the champions in the title race.
Second-placed City head into this week’s round of fixtures 13 points clear of the side that have been their closest rival in recent seasons.
Guardiola, whose side host Fulham on Saturday, said: “They have the same manager and squad who were able to make 17 victories in a row, 18 victories in a row in the past. Why are they not able to do it again?
“Nobody knows what is going to happen after the World Cup, there’s the transfer window, players coming back. This is my feeling.
“I would say Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea, Newcastle, Tottenham, (Manchester) United and Liverpool. It think these teams can fight for the title.”