Pep Guardiola says Wayne Rooney is one of best players he's seen
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola on Tuesday described Wayne Rooney as one of the best players he had ever seen and wagered a glass of beer with an English journalist that the Manchester United star would be fit to play in their Champions League quarter-final second leg clash on Wednesday.
Asked if he felt Rooney's injured toe would keep him out of the second leg at the Allianz Arena and what effect his absence might have on a tie currently locked at 1-1, Guardiola could not help but smile.
"He is going to play. One hundred per cent. He is going to play. I bet you a big, big glass of beer. I believe he is going to play, and [Antonio] Valencia too.
"Rooney is going to play. He is a big player, one of the best players I've ever seen in my career. I'm sure he's going to play."
The bet was struck with the same journalist who had evidently irritated Guardiola after the first leg, when the Spaniard demanded that the reporter look at him while he was answering a question.
Today, though, Guardiola was in much more relaxed mode as he welcomed his notepad-wielding sparring partner to Munich. He did, however, concede the pressure was really on him and his team to deliver after a recent flat spell which has seen the all-conquering German champions fail to win any of their last three games.
If he did not emulate Jupp Heynckes's 'treble' of Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League of last year, Guardiola conceded, people would believe he had failed. He said Bayern would have to play better than at Old Trafford where they dominated possession but fell behind to a Nemanja Vidic header from a corner, but he was "sure" that they would come through and qualify for the semi-finals.
"Here, we have to fight and I'm not here to compare myself with what Jupp did last season. We've done what we had to do and won the Bundesliga but if we don't get to the Champions League semi-final, it's a huge mistake.
"I know if we don't get to the final, the club can't deal with that. But then I knew right from the start when I came here that I've got to be in the situation where I have to get that treble. And if I don't, hey, that's not so good.
"But I'm sure my players will give the best performance they can. I'm optimistic. I don't know why but I am.
"We couldn't win in Manchester when maybe the people were expecting us to but I'm sure we will get to the semi-final. We need a good performance. I'm sure we can get to the semi-final."
Of Bayern's defeat at Augsburg on Saturday, when Guardiola played an experimental team, he shrugged: "It has no influence on this game. Of course, I'm sad for the team that we lost in Augsburg [and also squandered their unbeaten league record for the season] but our target for the last two, three weeks [since we won the league] is this game against Manchester United."
He expected no difference in approach from the first leg when United sat back and soaked up all the pressure and was wary that English clubs using that approach have done so well here in recent years at the Allianz Arena.
"They [English clubs] do it very, very well. They wait for your mistake. Obviously at home they attack a little bit more but I think they will wait with eight, nine players in the box, await our mistake. We have to be cleverer [than we were in the first leg].
"We have to attack really well. I think they'll be waiting for us to lose the ball and then will counter-attack. So we have to attack very well, and have to play better than we did in Manchester. But we had five or six chances and United only had one there, the one that Vidic scored."