Football

Pep: Impossible we will sign van Dijk

City boss rules out bid for Saints defender, gives Stones vote of confidence

Pep Guardiola has denied Manchester City are poised to launch a bid for Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk.

The Holland centre back has been linked with a £50-million (S$88.8m) move to the Etihad Stadium in next month's transfer window.

It has also been claimed Chelsea and Manchester United are interested in the highly-rated 25-year-old, who joined Saints from Celtic last year, and a bidding war could ensue.

But City manager Guardiola insists van Dijk is not a player he wants now and, in any case, does not think Southampton would sell to a rival mid-season.

"Next month, van Dijk here?" said Guardiola, when asked about the player at a press conference on Sunday.

"We're going to Southampton to play against them (in April).

"He's not going to come here next month. Impossible."

When asked why, Guardiola said: "Because he's a Southampton player and we don't want him now."

STILL POSSIBLE

Guardiola claims he has little need to sign players next month, although he has not ruled out the possibility completely.

He said: "If you ask me today - no. But maybe next week, we're going to change and realise we need something special in one position to have one more player in that position, where maybe we do not have too much, especially in the fullbacks.

"But, in the other positions, we are quite happy."

City played bottom side Hull this morning (Singapore time), looking for a third successive victory. The result was not available at press time.

The title-chasers have emerged from a bad spell with back-to-back wins over Watford and Arsenal in which they conceded just one goal.

Those crucial results came without £50m centre back John Stones, who was left on the bench for both games.

Guardiola has no doubts about the England international's long-term prospects despite some recent high-profile errors.

The Spaniard said: "He's young, he has to improve, but he's open and he has a lot of personality.

"When you play in the big teams, the character is there.

"All the big clubs buy huge players. All of them have quality and the (big) difference is the personality, how they react in the bad moments.

"John is one of them, I don't have doubts about that."

STONES ON THE BENCH

Hinting at a return, Guardiola said the best way for Stones to get better was to "play, play and play".

"That is the only way you can improve as a football player," he added.

Asked why Stones had therefore been among the substitutes lately, Guardiola suggested it was a matter of squad rotation.

"He has played a lot," Guardiola said.

"It's the first time in his career he has played every three days - it had never happened before with the Champions League and the League Cup.

"Every three days, you have to be focused. If I didn't have confidence in him, he would not have played the games that he played." - PA SPORT

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