Pep Guardiola says he cannot guarantee Raheem Sterling a more prominent role at Manchester City and insists the England forward must fight for his place like everyone else.
Sterling, 26, whose contract runs out in 2023, said he is open to moving abroad if he does not play more.
“Raheem is our player and will hopefully be an incredibly important player for us,” said the City boss.
“Some players want to play all the time but I can’t assure them of that.”
Guardiola said players “have to speak on the grass – not Raheem, all of them”.
And he added: “They have the opportunity because they know they’re going to play minutes, I don’t only play 11 players and that’s all. All of them are involved.
“What I want from Raheem and everyone is for them to be happy.”
Sterling has started one Premier League game since the opening weekend of the season, although he was in Guardiola’s line-up for the Champions League group stage defeat by Paris St-Germain on 28 September.
The arrival of England team-mate Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m has increased competition for forward places at City, although the absence of Ferran Torres with a fractured foot has reduced Guardiola’s options.
Sterling joined City from Liverpool in 2015 and has won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup once and the EFL Cup four times, but it is understood he will not think about signing a new deal until he is playing regularly again.
“They [the players] have to be satisfied to be here,” added Guardiola, who said he did not know about Sterling’s interview at the FT Business of Sport US summit, when he revealed he might move abroad.
“They have to be delighted to be at this club. If this is not the case, they are free to take the decision for the best of the players.
“I understand completely. I was a football player and I wanted to play all the time, so this is not an exception. Not just Raheem, all of them want to play 90 minutes in every game but I cannot give them that.
“They have to be improve in every training session and on the pitch and try to be happy there.”