Pep Guardiola couldn’t help himself. He had waited long enough.
When the Manchester City coach was asked about Mino Raiola ahead of last weekend’s derby, he initially insisted that he would not be drawn on the agent’s recent description of him as a “dog” and a “coward”.
“I will answer another day,” he said. “Today, before the game, I will not. I could answer him. I have a question, yeah, I will answer him, come on. OK.”
Guardiola then dropped his bomb in this explosive, long-running war of words with Raiola, claiming that the Italian had offered him both Henrikh Mkihtaryan and Paul Pogba during the transfer window.
Pogba spoke for everyone within the football world when he succinctly exclaimed: “Say what?!”
Whomever one believes, what is beyond dispute is that Guardiola and Raiola are two of the biggest enemies in the game today.
Indeed, this one of football’s longest-running feuds, dating back to 2009-10, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s infamous one and only season at Barcelona…
‘IT’S BEST YOU SEND PEP TO A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL’
It was Guardiola who had felt that Ibrahimovic could make his treble-winning side of 2009 even better. The Swede was a target man with a difference, one blessed with incredible technical ability and a penchant for the unexpected.
However, despite starting the season in impressive fashion, with 11 goals in his first 13 Liga games, including a spectacular Clasico winner, Ibra slowly fell out of favour with Guardiola.
As so sensationally documented in his autobiography, Ibra felt completely disrespected by the Catalan coach. He couldn’t understand why Guardiola stopped starting him, and then stopped talking to him.
He infamously questioned his decision to by him by stating, “It’s like you bought a Ferrari and drive it like a Fiat.”
An increasingly enraged Ibra then completely lost it after being left on the bench for the second leg of the Champions League semi-final loss to former club Inter, allegedly accusing Guardiola of being scared of Nerazzurri coach and his former mentor Jose Mourinho. “You have no balls!” he claims to have told Pep.
Unsurprisingly, it was Guardiola’s treatment of his favourite client which coloured Raiola’s view of the former Spain international.
First, he questioned Guardiola’s sanity: “If Guardiola doesn’t play Ibra after paying €75m for him, it’s best if you send him to a psychiatric hospital.”
Then, he suggested that Barca should sack Guardiola rather than offload Ibrahimovic.
“It’s easier to get rid of Guardiola, since he has a one-year contract, and not Zlatan, who has four years,” he reasoned. “The maths is clear…”
Barca decided otherwise, though, allowing Ibrahimovic to join AC Milan on loan in the summer of 2010 with the option of a permanent transfer at the end of the season.
This only further enraged Raiola, who physically tried to attack Guardiola after the 2011 Champions League final…
‘I WENT FOR HIM THAT NIGHT AT WEMBLEY’
Without Zlatan for the 2010-11 season, a more balanced Barcelona re-established themselves as the best team in Europe, beating Manchester United 3-1 in the Champions League final, with Ibra’s replacement David Villa netting in the tournament decider at Wembley.
Raiola felt that had it not been for Guardiola, Ibrahimovic would have been involved and, thus, earned himself a winners’ medal.
So, when their pair came to face to face after the game, Raiola was overcome with rage.
“I went for him that night in the corridors at Wembley,” he later admitted. “Only Adriano Galliani stopped me. Lucky for Guardiola!
“Guardiola told Zlatan to go to him if he ever had any problems or complaints.
“But then he just ignored him and wasn’t playing him. He didn’t even say hello to Zlatan.”
Unsurprisingly, Ibrahimovic would never return to Barcelona, sold to Milan for €25m in 2011.
Both the striker and his agent refused to let sleeping dogs lie, with Ibrahimovic slating Guardiola in his 2013 autobiography, “I am Zlatan.”
Raiola, meanwhile, took aim at Guardiola in a 2015 interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport …
‘GUARDIOLA IS A NASTY PIECE OF WORK’
“He is a nasty piece of work as a man, but a great coach,” Raiola stated. “Guardiola was the man who took Ibra to Barcelona and later he treated him very badly.”
Raiola repeated these claims again last month, but in even more aggressive language.
“Pep Guardiola, the coach, is fantastic. As a person he’s an absolute zero. He’s a coward, a dog.
“He’s a classic priest. ‘Do as I tell you – don’t do what I do…’
“If Manchester City win the Champions League this season it will emphasise what a good coach he is – but I’ll hate it.”
‘I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY I’M SUCH A BAD GUY’
Raiola, then, would doubtless have enjoyed City’s seemingly fatal 3-0 loss to Liverpool in last week’s quarter-final first leg at Anfield.
However, he may not have been so enamoured with the fact that Guardiola publicly claimed on Friday that he had been offered Pogba and Mkhitaryan in a sarcasm-filled response to Raiola’s latest attack on his character.
“The people discover my secrets, I am a bad guy,” Guardiola said. “I’m a coward. I don’t understand why I am such a bad guy.
“I never speak with him, so I don’t know maybe Ibra explained many things about me. But, two months ago he offered me Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us. Why?
“Why he offer? He was interested in Mkhitaryan and Pogba to play with us?
“I’m surprised because I am a dog… I am not a good guy. I am not a good guy. He deserves his players to play with better guys.
“But, he knows as well I am a top manager. Thank you.”
‘HE WANTS HIS PLAYERS TO COME HERE. NO WAY!’
Interestingly, while Raiola denied that there had been any such discussion with Guardiola, he did not deny any contact with his club.
“I never spoke to Pep Guardiola,” he told the BBC . “I would not speak to him about players; I would speak to Manchester City.
“They are a fantastic club with a fantastic manager.”
Given Raiola’s uncharacteristically tame and open-ended reply, it seems that the agent would no longer have an issue with one of his clients playing under Pep.
Guardiola, though, clearly no longer wants anything to do with Raiola.
“He wants his players to come to here,” he said, incredulous. “No, no way!”
It would be surprising, though, if those are the final words in this very public slanging match.