Pep Guardiola has refused to back down or apologise after calling for “more people” to attend Manchester City’s clash with Southampton on Saturday.

The City boss sparked a debate over attendances when he said would like a bigger crowd at the Etihad Stadium than that of the 38,062 that watched Wednesday’s Champions League victory over RB Leipzig.

Those comments went down badly with some fans who felt that, as they indirectly highlighted the number of empty seats at the 54,000-capacity arena, their loyalty was being questioned.

Kevin Parker, the general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, labelled the remarks “disappointing and uncalled for” and suggested Guardiola should “stick to” coaching. He added that that the manager should be more considerate of the reasons why people are unable to attend certain games.

Guardiola, however, was in no mood to retract his statement when he spoke to the media on Friday, saying his comments have been widely misinterpreted. The Spaniard says he was speaking more generally about the benefits of playing at a full house in a tough game.

Speaking at a press conference, Guardiola said: “Did I say after the game against Leipzig that I was disappointed because the stadium was not full?

“An interpretation is interpretation. I’m not going to apologise for what I said. I’m surprised about what happened with this man (Parker).

“I made an approach to do something together again on Saturday at 3pm. What I said was we would love, and need, their support. Whether it’s 10,000 people, 40,000 or 50,000 – it doesn’t matter how many people come. We need their support.

A crowd of 38,062 was at the Etihad Stadium for the visit of Leipzig
A crowd of 38,062 was at the Etihad Stadium for the visit of Leipzig (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“If you want to join us, we will be incredibly happy if you come to see the next game against Southampton because I know how difficult it will be.

“I’d prefer to be with my people than without my people but if you can’t come, don’t come. I never have the words to say, ‘Why didn’t you come?’

“Mr Parker should review the comments.”

City often do not sell out their home matches in the Champions League group stage.

Yet with the club having risen rapidly over the past decade, Guardiola insists he was not expecting them to be able to emulate the more established big names instantly in this regard.

“We are who we are and we are proud of who we are,” he said. “I know the history and respect it.

“I don’t want to be like (Manchester) United or Liverpool, or Barcelona, or Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid, or all the big clubs.”

Guardiola added he would rather step down than fall out with fans over the issue.

He said: “The club is the most important thing and the most important part of the club is the fans. They sustain it. I love this club, I am part of this club.

“When people are not happy with me I will leave, that is for sure.”

The reasons for City’s below-capacity attendances for non-Premier League games are complex and not only related to ticket prices. Reduced-price admission was even available for the Leipzig game.

Guardiola, however, does accept that the cost of attending football can be prohibitive.

He said: “Everything is so expensive today after the pandemic. That is why I am asking to go more to quality not quantity. If there were less games it would be better for everyone.”

City defender John Stones is currently sidelined
City defender John Stones is currently sidelined (Dave Thompson/PA)

Away from the fans issue, Guardiola insists he has no issue with defender John Stones playing 90 minutes twice for England earlier this month.

The centre-back has not featured for City this season and is now sidelined with a muscular injury.

Guardiola said: “Gareth Southgate knows exactly what is the best for his team. He is the manager. I know they want to take care of them and do their best.

“But the reality is he came back injured. What we want is him to be fit because we need him.

“We are going to have many injuries in difficult positions with a lot of games and hopefully he can come back as soon as possible.”