It’s been a difficult year for Stiliyan Petrov with it all coming to a head this past week when he announced his retirement from the game. The now former Aston Villa and Bulgarian captain will be focusing on his fight against acute leukemia, which he was diagnosed with back in March 2012. Luckily the 33-year-old is now in remission after four months of chemotherapy but he has taken the decision to step away from the game in order to fully recover and focus on new challenges such as setting up a foundation to help leukemia sufferers.
As the most capped Bulgarian player of all time with 106 caps to his name, he is a legend in his own country as well as to Villa fans. Throughout his career, that started in his homeland with CSKA Sofia in 1996, through to his move to Celtic in 1999 and finally his switch to Aston Villa in 2006, Petrov’s reputation as a hard-working grafter followed him. He was a fan’s favourite at all three clubs he played for, mostly because of his style of play and never gives up attitude. It has been this attitude that has seen him persevere through the last year as he fought the disease. As he steps away from the game, tributes from teammates current and past as well as opponents flooded in on his twitter page and other media sources.
Aston Villa winger Marc Albrighton wrote that he “could not ask for a better captain to learn from as a player and as a person” whilst Celtic manager and former teammate Neil Lennon called him “the all round modern-day midfielder, a box to box and technically very good. He was a fantastic goalscorer, very humble; a great team-mate and a great friend“. Fellow Premiership captain Vincent Kompany remarked” It’s sad to see a great captain and a great man retiring in his prime” and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney added his best wishes too commenting on twitter ” Best of luck to Stiliyan Petrov who retired from football today after his long battle with leukemia”
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert, who played alongside Petrov at Celtic, has offered him a job at Villa when he is ready, likely within Lambert’s coaching staff. Whilst Petrov may not be in a position to accept the offer just yet as he continues his recovery, it will be heart warming that his former teammate and manager thinks so highly of him to do so. But Lambert will insist that it would not be a sentimental appointment, rather a smart one due to Petrov’s character, knowledge of the game and love for the club. If he is to return to Villa Park as a coach, he will be given a hero’s welcome by the players who still look towards Petrov with fondness. Former teammate Carlos Cuellar took to his blog following Petrov’s decision to retire, to praise his colleague. Writing in Spanish then translating into English, some of his words don’t make sense but the general tone of Cuellar’s words suggest that he holds the utmost respect for Petrov:
“His attitude and character while in the pitch made him achieve numberless successes and now, outside the game, it will be key for a new life among his family and friends. I have no doubt that he is going to win this match (against cancer), perhaps the most important match of his life, and he will live again, in the future, a new era around football pitches. Football is his passion and it will keep on being it, in spite of going through a complicated situation, and we miss that passion for football from the inside. Without a doubt, he will be an example for plenty of people who unfortunately sustain this disease”
Petrov knows he has options ahead of him but first he must continue his comeback away from the pitch which is likely to take some more time. His focus will be on his health and his family and friends, who have been there from the start of his battle with cancer. Speaking on the day of his retirement, Petrov thanked his family, his wife Paulina, and sons, Kristiyan and Stiliyan as well as his teammates and fellow players for their pillar like support throughout in an emotional statement.
“Football has been the other great love of my life, so it is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the game. The emotions are overwhelming really, but the continued support of family, friends and the great people I have come to know will make it easier for me to move on from the only life I’ve ever known. That I am ready to embrace new challenges will make this process much easier”