Pep Guardiola insists his Manchester City players will have plenty more opportunities to win the Champions League – despite the club’s impending ban.
City head into the first leg of their last-16 tie against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu with a cloud hanging over them after being suspended from the competition for the next two seasons.
The Premier League champions are appealing against the sanction – imposed by European governing body UEFA for Financial Fair Play breaches – but, as things stand, their current run in the event will be their last until at least 2022-23.
But, when asked if he felt this was a last chance, City manager Guardiola said: “No way! These players will have a lot of chances to win the Champions League.
“This season is a big opportunity. I know we play the king of this competition and we know the challenge in front of us but, at the same time, it’s not the last one.
“When you die, after there are no more chances. But, in life, if you are in this business and you want to train and play, you never know what is going to happen.
“There is no special motivation. Even if it was the last one there would not have to be extra motivation. The desire to win has to be there, without that it is impossible, but more than that it’s another game, that’s all.”
Guardiola, speaking a press conference in the Spanish capital, was asked if he feared for the reputation of the club.
He said: “We were under suspicion for a long time but we have the right to appeal. I trust the people in my club. They have explained the reasons and shown me arguments and the proof, and we are optimistic that finally, if we deserve to be in the Champions League next season, we can do it.
“If it doesn’t happen we have to accept and move forward with the people who want to stay but we are going to see what happens with CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport).”
After that the City press officer prevented any further questions on the subject.
Guardiola did confirm that winger Raheem Sterling was fit to feature after three weeks out with a hamstring injury.
He said: “His natural condition, his regeneration is amazing. He said to us he could have played against West Ham and Leicester but the doctor said be careful.
“But he wanted to play and that’s a good sign. He’s fit, he’s ready.”
Guardiola, a two-time Champions League winner as Barcelona coach, was hailed as the best on the eve of the game by his opposite number Zinedine Zidane.
Guardiola turned that compliment around by saying he could never match Zidane’s success in winning three in a row.
He said: “Obviously I thank him for those words. I don’t want to go against what he’s saying but I never wanted to be the best. I never understood who was the best manager.
“Of course if you win you get more praise and if you lose you get more criticism.
“What Zidane has done in Europe I don’t think is going to be repeated. They won three consecutive Champions Leagues and that proves how great this club is.
“Not may clubs can compare. They try to do it on the pitch but outside it is impossible.”
On his past rivalry with Real, Guardiola said: “It’s a pleasure to come back here. It’s an honour and I intend to enjoy it.”