Pep Guardiola has expressed surprise at comments from Raheem Sterling that he would consider leaving Manchester City.
The City manager, however, admits he could understand why players would want more game time.
Sterling, whose contract at the Etihad Stadium expires at the end of next season, said this week he would be “open” to a move elsewhere if it meant more minutes on the field.
The England forward has started just two Premier League games for City this season amid fierce competition for places in the champions’ squad.
Asked about Sterling’s comments, Guardiola said at a press conference: “I didn’t know it and I think the club neither.
“Raheem is our player, hopefully he will be an incredibly important player for us. I don’t know if he wants to play more game time — I cannot assure them, they know that. I cannot assure how many minutes every player is going to play.
“Always they have to speak on the grass, on the pitch. That is the best way. Not (just) Raheem, all of them.
“They know they are going to play minutes, I’m not a guy that plays only 11 players. All of them are involved.
“What I want from Raheem and everyone is they are happy. They have to be satisfied to be here and delighted to be in this club.
“If that’s not the case they are free to take the best decision for the player and his family. This is the most important thing. They have to be happy.
“They want more game time, I understand that completely. I was a player and all the time I wanted to play. Not just Raheem, all of them want to play every game, 90 minutes, but I cannot assure them.
“They have to improve every training session and be there on the pitch and try to be happy there.”
Sterling, 26, has been a key player for Guardiola throughout the Spaniard’s time at City.
He lost his place as a regular starter towards the end of last season though as the likes of Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez hit form. The summer signing of Jack Grealish and the rejuvenation of Bernardo Silva have since further restricted his opportunities.
Guardiola said: “It’s not easy, but Raheem played the final of the Champions League, so he’s a very important player for us.
“I don’t want to see the players unhappy or a little upset or whatever but if I take decisions it is because I think it is better to win the game that we’re going to play.
“In my career, important players didn’t play in important games because I considered at that moment this player was more important.”
Sterling made his remarks at the FT Business of Sport US Summit on Thursday evening.
He stressed he was not complaining about his situation but did admit playing abroad was a challenge he may wish to pursue in future.
Sterling said: “If there was the opportunity to go somewhere else (for more game time), I would be open to it at this moment in time.
“As I said, football is the most important thing to me — challenges that I have set myself from a young age and dreams as well, to play abroad.
“As an English player all I know is the Premier League and I have always had something down (in me) that maybe one day I would love to play abroad to see how I would come up against that challenge.”