Cristiano Ronaldo a 'better man' after Manchester United exit

Portugal star, who joined Al Nassr in hugely lucrative move in December, set to become most capped player in men's international football

Portugal's players Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and Diogo Dalot (R) attend a training session at Cidade do Futebol in Oeiras, on the outskirts of Lisbon, Portugal, 22 March 2023.  Portugal play against Liechtenstein in the qualification for the UEFA EURO 2024 on 23 March.   EPA / RODRIGO ANTUNES
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Cristiano Ronaldo says he is a “better man” following his acrimonious departure from Manchester United last year, while the Al Nassr captain also expressed his surprise at the competitiveness of Saudi Pro League.

The Portugal forward, poised to break yet another record with his national team, opened up somewhat on Wednesday about the controversial conclusion to his second stint in England.

Ronaldo's contract was terminated by United on the eve of the 2022 World Cup in November after his explosive TV interview with Piers Morgan, in which he criticised manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.

Ronaldo, 38, went on to have a disappointing campaign in Qatar – Portugal were eliminated at the quarter-final stage, with their captain losing his place in the starting line-up – before he signed for Saudi’s Nassr in late December.

Speaking about his United exit, Ronaldo said: “I think that everything in life happens for a reason. I'm often grateful to go through some difficult things so I can see who is really on my side.

“At the tough times, you see who is on your side. It wasn't a very good phase in my life, in my career, first on a personal level and then professionally.

“There is no time for regrets in this life. Even if we don’t do so well, it’s part of our life. When we are at the top of the mountain, it’s hard to see what’s down here and many times I couldn’t.

“I feel like I’m better prepared now because I can see some things. I’m a better man now.”

On Thursday, Ronaldo will become the all-time record holder for men’s international appearances (197) should he feature in Portugal’s 2024 European Championship qualifier against Liechtenstein.

The former United, Real Madrid and Juventus star's future with his national team was in doubt after the World Cup, but new manager Roberto Martinez was quick to include the all-time leading goalscorer in men’s international football in his first squad.

However, Ronaldo did admit on Wednesday: “It was all in the balance after the World Cup. I reflected with my family and then we came to the conclusion that it was not time to throw in the towel. I learned a lot from it and I’m very happy to be back."

Meanwhile, Ronaldo has been settling into life at Nassr after a modest start. He has scored nine goals in his past nine appearances for the Riyadh club, while was named the league’s Player of the Month for February having found the net eight times and registered two assists.

Nassr, seeking a first top-flight title in four years and 10th overall, are currently second in the table, one point behind Al Ittihad with nine rounds remaining.

Ronaldo signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Nassr said to be worth more than $200 million per year.

"I think you should look at the [Saudi Pro League] in a different way," Ronaldo said. "I'm not going to say that the league is a Premier League – that would be a lie.

"But it's a very competitive league that I'm positively surprised by, a very balanced league and good teams. I am sure that in the coming years the league will be ... the fourth, fifth or sixth most competitive league in the world.”

On potentially surpassing Kuwait’s Bader Al Mutawa as the most capped player in men’s football, Ronaldo said: "I like to break records, I have broken lot of records …

"In addition to being the best scorer ever for national teams, I was also looking to be the international player with the most caps.”

Updated: March 23, 2023, 5:26 AM