Pep Guardiola has backed Raheem Sterling after the Manchester City forward was pictured with a Real Madrid shirt in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.
The England international has been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu and told AS he was happy at City but “always open to challenges”.
City head coach Guardiola was asked about Sterling’s interview in a news conference on Friday, ahead of the Premier League match against Leicester City.
“Players are free to talk and say what they believe, what they think,” Guardiola said. “We are not here to tell them what they have to say.
“It’s normal if you make an interview with the Madrid media that he speaks about Madrid.”
Sterling posed with City and Madrid shirts ahead of the Champions League last-16 first leg between the teams next Wednesday, which comes at a turbulent time for the English club.
UEFA has handed the reigning Premier League champions a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine after an investigation found City broke financial fair play regulations.
City has vowed to fight the verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with chief executive Ferran Soriano saying it is “simply not true” that the club breached the rules.
But the issue looks set to dominate the discussion around City for the foreseeable future, to the obvious frustration of Guardiola.
The former Barcelona boss told reporters his team would give 100 percent until the end of the season as he led a fresh defense of their achievements.
“I’m completely sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many, many years, so nothing changes in these terms,” Guardiola said.
“At the end of this season, nobody knows what is going to happen.
“With calm, we’re going to decide to do what we want, what the players want, but right now, the commitment for the last three months together in every single game, I don’t have any doubts we will be incredibly well, as we always have been.”
Asked about what some people may think of City in the wake of the UEFA punishment, Guardiola said: “I cannot change what people think. I know how hard we work. I’m so proud of what we have done in these years altogether.
“So I have a different opinion. All that we won in these seasons, nobody helped us from outside, so we did an incredible job, day by day, game by game.
“This is not finished, it’s not over, we appeal as a club and we will see what happens in the end.”