Cristiano Ronaldo, on the eve of becoming the player with the most appearances with a national team in men's soccer, said his difficult second spell with Manchester United made him a better man.
Ronaldo opened up briefly about his troubles at the English club ahead of Portugal's match against Liechtenstein in qualifying for the European Championship on Thursday, when he is set to break the all-time record for appearances with a national team with 197.
"There is no time for regrets in this life. Even if we don't do so well, it's part of our life," Ronaldo said Wednesday. "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."
The 38-year-old Ronaldo joined Saudi club Al Nassr after his contract was terminated by United following a TV interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club's owners after being benched and even temporarily suspended by the club.
"I think that everything in life happens for a reason," he said. "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."
Ronaldo said he is motivated and enjoying his time back with Portugal's national team after a disappointing World Cup in which he was benched in the knockout rounds and left the field in tears after a loss to Morocco in the quarterfinals. He came off the bench in that match to tie Bader Al-Mutawa's mark of 196 outings for Kuwait.
He is expected to break the record on Thursday as new Portugal coach Roberto Martínez said he still counts on the star forward.
"This record is special. I'll be really proud if it happens," Ronaldo said. "But I want to keep playing even more games, I don't want to stop here."
Ronaldo admitted there were doubts about his future with the national team, but that's all in the past now.
"It was all in the balance after the World Cup," he said. "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."
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