Pep Guardiola insists he has to treat all of Manchester City's players as equals after Raheem Sterling suggested he is open to leaving the Premier League champions.
In an interview released on Thursday, England forward Sterling told the Financial Times that he is contemplating a move away from City in order to secure regular game time.
Sterling has been a consistent figure in Guardiola's all-conquering City team since 2016, though his form tailed off last season and he was used sparingly in the latter half of the last term.
The 26-year-old still started the Champions League final before heading off to star at Euro 2020 with England, but has played only 274 minutes of Premier League football so far with just two starts.
Guardiola was unaware of Sterling's thoughts on potentially leaving City, though insists he cannot treat any of his players differently or assure them of regular minutes.
"Raheem is our player, we are happy with an incredibly important player for us," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Saturday's match with Burnley.
"Some players want to play all the time but I cannot assure them, they know it. I cannot assure how many minutes everyone is going to play. Always they have to speak on the pitch, that is the best moment.
"Not only Raheem, all of them. What I want is for everyone to be happy, satisfied to be here, delighted to be at this club. If this is not the case they are free to take the decision that is best for him.
"They have to be happy. More game time, I understand completely. I was a football player and all the time I wanted to play."
Asked how difficult leaving high-calibre players out of his starting XI is, Guardiola said: "Of course it's not easy. Raheem played in the final of the Champions League. He's an important player.
"But I have to treat Cole Palmer the same as Kevin De Bruyne. Why should I treat De Bruyne differently to Palmer? Both have parents, a girlfriend, a wife, friends. There's no reason why. I have to treat players the same.
"In my career, important players have not played in important games. I take decisions that are best for the team, not for the players and not for me."
Another player who has found his game time limited in 2021-22 is John Stones. The centre-back is yet to feature at all for City this term, despite enjoying a brilliant 2020-21 in which he made 35 appearances, helping City to 30 victories and keeping 19 clean sheets.
Yet Guardiola seemed to suggest Stones' attitude and desire to improve set him in good stead in comparison to how other players treat being out of the team.
"John was such an important player for us last season because he played incredibly well alongside Ruben [Dias]. This season, Aymeric [Laporte] played incredibly well alongside Ruben and it's fair to let him play," Guardiola said.
"John is an exceptional guy, knows the situation and always is fighting. Some players play more than the other ones, but it is normal. I would love to give them all minutes, but I cannot assure them. Not John, not Ruben, not Kevin, not Phil Foden. Everyone has to try to do it on the pitch.
"Raheem is so important for us, but he competes with Jack Grealish, Phil, Ferran [Torres], Gabriel [Jesus], Bernardo [Silva]. This is the reality at the top clubs. Sometimes it's difficult. Train harder, and in the moment you play, show you are right.
"Some players accept more, like John for example. There are players, they suffer more. It happens in all the clubs around the world. You have to fight and at the end there is a transfer window and you have to decide what you want to do.
"I don't want to see the players unhappy or upset or whatever. It is not the end of the world. There are many clubs, you can do whatever you want, we don't push barriers. Make a phone call to the club and sort the situation.
"I am not talking about Raheem. I am talking in general. The transfer window is the moment to decide. When it's finished, you have to respect my decisions, I'm the manager. I don't take the decision to benefit the players."