The former Barcelona boss has lamented that the winger has been branded with the tag of a diver – something he believes is not fair
Raheem Sterling should move on from frustrations with referees and opponents and follow the example of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
England winger Sterling has proved a key figure in a triumphant campaign for City, with Guardiola’s men picking up the Premier League title and EFL Cup.
A rampaging performance in a 4-1 win at West Ham last weekend returned three assists, taking Sterling’s overall Premier League tally this season to 11 alongside 18 goals.
The 23-year-old was also bafflingly denied a clear penalty when he was brought down by West Ham defender Aaron Cresswell during the second half and, as his team-mates celebrated at full-time, he remonstrated with referee Neil Swarbrick.
Guardiola himself lamented the decision afterwards and fiercely maintained any claims his player is a diver are wide of the mark, but suggested Sterling should look towards Messi and how the great forward deals with similar setbacks on the field.
“He has to learn from that and accept the reality,” the Catalan said when discussing Sterling ahead of Sunday’s match against Huddersfield Town, when City will be presented with the Premier League trophy.
“Of course the people talk too much and say he is diving. When the people start to talk about that they believe that.
“But he is a guy who is quite honest in those terms. He is smart, he is intelligent. He is a guy who never kicks an opponent.
“It is a problem for the referees, not for Sterling. It was a penalty at Anfield [in the Champions League quarter-final] and penalty at West Ham. If the referees do not decide to do that it is not a problem for Raheem Sterling.
“You have to accept it and you have to handle it. If one guy makes wrong decisions, stand up and go forward to the next one.
“I learned from the best player in history [Messi], never complain on the pitch. If they kick, stand up and go. He has to learn from that. It’s happened and the next action is the most important thing.”
Outgoing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made the accusation that Sterling “dives well” after he won a spot kick from Nacho Monreal, converted by Sergio Aguero, in City’s 3-1 win over the Gunners last November.
Guardiola does not believe his counterpart contributed to any lingering negativity around Sterling, whose livewire style he feels makes such flashpoints inevitable.
“I’m pretty sure in the game where he said that it was a penalty,” the ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss said.
“He is a guy who is so fast, he is quicker than the other ones and he is smarter than them. When you are quicker and smarter than your defender there is a value.
“Sometimes [an alleged dive] happens once and you think it is always like this. In general. he is an honest and exceptional guy.”
The strides made by Sterling as an attacking focal point remains a highlight of a season where City have enjoyed many.
“I think he has made a fantastic season,” Guardiola added. “Hopefully he can maintain it with the national team in the World Cup.
“What I like the most is I have the feeling – maybe I will be wrong – that he can do better. The numbers this season were top, in terms of assists and goals, the influence on our attack.
“I have the feeling that playing inside and not just wide he will create a lot of problems. In terms of mentality and belief he made a good step forward compared to last season.”