Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola insists he has no problem with England forward Raheem Sterling discussing the possibility of a move to Real Madrid.
Sterling was quizzed by Spanish outlet AS about joining Real, given City’s two-year ban from European competition.
The 25-year-old reiterated that he was “really happy at City” but added: “I am always open to challenges.”
Guardiola said his players were “free to say what they think. We’re not here to tell them what they have to say”.
Sterling has developed into one of City’s most influential players since joining from Liverpool in a £49m deal in July 2016.
Asked whether he would one day like to play for La Liga leaders Real, he told AS: “How do I answer that one? Is the camera live or is it just taking pictures?
“No-one knows what the future will hold. I am a player and I am always open to challenges but right now my challenge is at City and I’m really happy. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this.
“Real Madrid are a fantastic club. When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for – it’s massive.”
Guardiola said of the interview: “It’s normal in the Madrid media to speak about Madrid, that’s normal.
“I’m completely sure [of] the commitment of our players. It’s about what they’ve shown for many years – nothing changes.
“At the end of the season nobody knows what is going to happen. With calm we decide what we want, but for the next three months the commitment will be incredible.”
When Barcelona or Madrid come calling other clubs ‘tremble’
Guardiola admits that rival clubs “tremble” when Real Madrid or Barcelona come calling for their star players.
He said the Spanish pair had pulling power that left every other club vulnerable.
“All the clubs have to know that when Real Madrid or Barcelona knock on the door the other clubs must tremble – they will be a little bit in trouble,” he said.
“Barcelona and Real Madrid are maybe the strongest and most powerful teams in terms of history and how good they are.
“I don’t know if Madrid or Barcelona have called Raheem’s agent but I don’t have any doubts about his commitment from the first day to the last.”
Sterling’s current City contract expires in 2023. It was suggested last year that the 25-year-old would be offered an extension, although that is yet to happen.
‘Nobody has helped us outside’
Meanwhile, Guardiola said “nobody has helped us outside” as the club come to terms with the possibility of a two-year exile from European competition.
City were banned and fined 30m euros (£25m) last week for “serious breaches” of Uefa’s club licensing and financial fair play (FFP) regulations.
They have confirmed they will contest the European governing body’s decision.
“I repeat, it’s not finished,” Guardiola told BBC Sport. “It’s not over – we appeal and see what happens.”
Guardiola confirmed after Wednesday’s Premier League victory against West Ham that he would remain at the club regardless of the outcome of the appeal and that the “truth will prevail”.
The 49-year-old Spaniard joined City in 2016 after winning seven trophies in three years at Bayern Munich and to date has captured successive Premier League titles, plus the FA Cup and the League Cup twice, with the chance to complete a hat-trick in next month’s final against Aston Villa.
Asked on Friday whether a two-year ban for breaching FFP regulations would in some way colour judgement of his time at the club, he said: “I cannot change that. I know how hard we work and I’m so proud of what we’ve done these years together.
“I have a different opinion. Nobody has helped us outside – we did an incredible job day by day, game by game and nothing will change the opinion.”