Victor Valdes has revealed how Louis van Gaal almost forced him into retirement at Manchester United during 18 months of hell at Old Trafford. The Spain international made just two appearances for the club after joining them on a free in January 2015 and saw his career stall completely while in the Premier League.
Valdes was not given a squad number or a locker at the club's Carrington training ground for the 2015-16 campaign and forced to train away from the first team. He eventually joined Standard Liege for the second half of the campaign where he made eight appearances in all competitions.
Upon his contract expiring with United, Valdes has joined newly-promoted Middlesbrough under Aitor Karanka and looks set to be first choice at the Riverside after starting the Premier League opener against Stoke City. But the end of the 34-year-old's career still irks the former Barcelona stopper, despite him retaining respect for Van Gaal.
"I feel like a professional footballer again after all those hard days in Manchester," he told Sky Sports. "It's difficult to explain, but it was hard being alone. Sometimes at United I thought 'I don't need this', but I am a fighter and a professional."
The three-time Champions League winner added: "This was the biggest fight of my career and I won it. The easy way out was to end my career but now I feel like a professional goalkeeper again. I don't have any bad words for Van Gaal or Manchester United. They helped me through my injury and the manager gave me my chance as a footballer at Barcelona and then again at United.
"He's like a father figure to me. I don't want to remember the last six months in a bad way – for me he is in the top. We are still friends and there is no problem between us. I want to say in a public way thank you to the U21 coach Alan Fettis – without him I may have given up football. He made me keep going and stopped me when I was thinking about bringing my career to an end."