Cristiano Ronaldo says Man United have left a “bad phase of his career”.

ESPN4 minute reading

Cristiano Ronaldo said on Wednesday that his exit from Manchester United after a second spell at Old Trafford represented a “bad phase of his career”.

The Portugal international, who is playing in a pair of Euro 2024 qualifiers for his country, moved to Saudi club Al Nassr in January after becoming a pariah at United following an interview with Piers Morgan in which he was highly critical of the club and manager. Erik ten Hag.

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“When we’re on the mountaintop, we often don’t see what’s below,” Ronaldo told a press conference ahead of Thursday’s match with Liechtenstein. “I went through a bad phase in my career, I have no problem admitting that. But life goes on.

“In that difficult moment I understood who real friends are.”

Ronaldo is back playing international football for the first time since losing to Morocco in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup. At the same time, Portugal hired Roberto Martinez to replace longtime coach Fernando Santos, who parted ways with the team after the tournament in Qatar.

“Everything was in the balance after the World Cup,” Ronaldo said of the possibility of retiring after last year’s World Cup. “I thought about it with the family and then we came to the conclusion that it was not time to throw in the towel.

“I learned a lot from that and I’m very happy to be back. The coach says he wants me in the team. I feel like I still have a lot to give and I want to continue like that.”

Ronaldo will break the record for appearances for one national team after Bader Al-Mutawa equaled Kuwait’s record of 196 appearances while playing for Qatar.

“Records are always positive,” Ronaldo said. “They are my motivation. I like to break records and this record is special. I will be very proud if it happens, but I want to keep playing even more games, I don’t want to stop here.”

Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal were knocked out of the World Cup by Morocco in the quarter-finals.Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty Images

Santos’ departure came amid controversy over Ronaldo’s involvement in Qatar’s tournament qualifiers, but the former Real Madrid star said it was time to move on from the past as they look to qualify for next summer’s European Championships in Germany.

“This is a new chapter for everyone, for the players, for the staff and for the country,” Ronaldo said. “We feel good energy. It’s fresh air. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than before, but sometimes changes in life are positive. There are new ideas, a new way of thinking. You can realize it. feel the change and that’s good for everyone.”

Santos led Portugal for eight years, leading the team to the 2016 European Cup title — the country’s first trophy — and the 2019 Nations League title. He reached an agreement with the federation to leave two years before the end of his contract.

Martinez ended his six-year spell with Belgium after the team’s disappointing group stage exit at the World Cup. He pledged to respect Ronaldo’s history with the national team and said Ronaldo will be among the team’s captains.

“I am surprised by the level of commitment of the players to the national team,” said Martinez. “Anyone can play. We are starting a new cycle and we want the best. Ronaldo is part of the best and we need his experience.”

In addition to Ronaldo, Martinez will inherit a squad full of talented players such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Goncalo Ramos and Joao Felix. The coach made few changes to the line-up, with 40-year-old defender Pepe also returning to play alongside 38-year-old Ronaldo.

“They introduced us briefly in the training ground,” Felix said of Martínez. “He explained to us some of his ideas, especially for these two matches which will be very similar. He talked about the dynamic of the attack, the connection between the wing and the forwards.”

Felix downplayed Portugal’s chances in Sunday’s games against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, games in which the Euro 2016 champions are clear favourites.

“We always have to be prepared and we don’t take the game lightly,” said Felix. “We have the last example of the World Cup, when everyone thought we would go through Morocco and we didn’t.

“It’s always complicated, it’s always the best of each country, and everyone plays like every game is a final. Every game will be difficult, home and away. We have to be careful.”

Portugal are unbeaten against Liechtenstein with six wins and a draw in seven games.

Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa was withdrawn on Wednesday due to a muscle injury, and he was replaced by Celton Biai, who plays for Guimaraes in Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Portugal’s Euro 2024 qualifying group also includes Iceland, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The two best nations from the 10 groups have qualified for the final.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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