Friday 19 August 2016 07:54, UK
Victor Valdes insists Louis van Gaal remains a father figure to him - despite almost forcing him into hanging up his gloves by making him train on his own.
The Spain international, who made his Middlesbrough debut on their Premier League return against Stoke last Saturday, says he and the Dutchman - who also gave him his chance as a youngster at Barcelona - remain friends despite their public fall-out last season.
In his first interview since joining Aitor Karanka's Boro this summer, Valdes told Sky Sports News HQ: "I feel like a professional footballer again after all those hard days in Manchester.
"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 34-year-old was denied a locker at Carrington and excluded from the annual squad photo as he fell down the pecking order following his fall-out with Van Gaal.
He then had to fight back from a serious knee injury that almost ended his glittering career.
"This was the biggest fight of my career and I won it", he added. "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."
The much-decorated Valdes, who has lifted three Champions League trophies and won six La Liga titles at Barcelona, went on loan to Belgian side Standard Liege last season in a bid to resurrect his career.
Now the man who has won both the World Cup and the Euros with Spain, is loving life at Middlesbrough.
He was relaxed and spoke with real belief in Karanka's project at Middlesbrough, although admits to being surprised that a Real Madrid legend would court a man who has played more than 500 times for their arch rivals.
He said: "I want to thank Aitor Karanka for saying such nice things about me. He says having me here is a privilege but the privilege is all mine.
"Playing with a newly promoted club means I have a different objective in my career but I still always want to go out there and win games. I am grateful to Karanka for the chance.
"He had been texting me for a while. He sent me a message after my knee injury and we have kept in touch since.
"It was a surprise because he is a Real Madrid legend - there is obviously a fierce rivalry there.
"The atmosphere is positive around this team and I am enjoying life here. Saturday (against Stoke) was a special day at The Riverside - a new stadium for me and new set of fans.
"Even the afternoon kick offs are different to what I am used to in Spain. But the Premier League is special for any player.
"Our goal is to stay in the top flight, but I reckon we can do more than that. It looks like a different goal from what I'm used to because we are new in the Premier League but in my head nothing changes."
Valdes, who joins Alvaro Negredo as the big-name Spaniards in Karanka's new-look side, hopes another famous Spaniard has a successful season.
The goalkeeper played under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, but reckons he could find life tough at Manchester City.
Guardiola has already made one huge decision in dropping England no1 Joe Hart to the bench.
Valdes added: "It will be interesting to see Pep's style and philosophy in the Premier League. I'm happy for him because he has always wanted to manage in England but could find it difficult to adapt.
"I remember Pep always saying 'Casa, Casa', which translates to 'go home'. He thinks the centre of the pitch is home, and he wanted the players to return the ball there as soon as possible.
"It's more for the players than the goalkeeper but he wants a keeper who gives the defenders an option. But the most important thing for him is a keeper who makes saves!
"Our philosophy in the Barca academy is always the same. We are shown as kids to play their way, and the goalkeepers have to learn to play like outfield players."
While he's starred in El Clasico on more occasions than he cares to remember, new Boro boy Valdes is looking forward starring in a derby of different sorts on Sunday when he makes the short trip to Sunderland with his new Boro teammates.
It's a journey he could scarcely have expected making in his darkest hours last season.