During Aston Villa’s 2-2 draw at Wigan Athletic, their retiring captain Stiliyan Petrov was given a fine farewell from supporters, being paraded on the pitch to great applause from all four sides of the DW Stadium. The Bulgarian, who is currently in remission after receiving treatment for leukaemia, looked overwhelmed at the tribute.
It was obviously not the way he wanted his playing career to end – being struck down by a serious illness – but never has he spoken of his frustration at being away from the pitch and potentially fighting for his life. He has been there for his young Villa teammates whenever possible, and his spirit might just be a reason why the club eventually managed to stave off the threat of relegation to the Championship.
Since his diagnosis last year, Petrov has always been fighting a losing battle to return to action – the priority being to beat leukaemia. But he hasn’t at any point been forgotten by the Aston Villa faithful; at each home game throughout the season there has been an applause whenever the clock has reached 19 minutes, with a large image of him and the words ‘Support Stan’ on the big screen at Villa Park.
On the pitch, Petrov would have been a calming influence in the midfield. Ashley Westwood has come in and played very well considering his lack of Premier League experience, but with the captain in the team there might have been a little more organisation, and more attacks might have been snuffed out due to his positional sense.
Manager Paul Lambert would have been completely aware of what Petrov would have brought to his team apart from more experience. They were teammates at Celtic between 1999 and 2005 where Petrov made a name for himself as a goal-scoring midfielder under Martin O’Neill, being a regular in the team during an incredibly successful and trophy-laden spell at Parkhead.
When he became manager of Aston Villa in 2006, O’Neill did not think twice about bringing Petrov south of the border to the West Midlands. And since then he has proved how much of an asset he is to Villa, not being as prolific as he was in Scotland, but just as influential, being awarded the captaincy in 2009. He remained skipper under two more permanent managers before being struck down.
His diagnosis came as a massive shock, but he has gained so much respect from players and supporters alike. That culminated in the scenes at Wigan where face masks of the 33-year-old were abundant in the crowd as part of a wonderful send-off. On an afternoon of many retirements in English football, this was arguably the most poignant.
Petrov has now taken up the role of assistant development coach at Villa Park, and that will help continue his long association with the football club which has already lasted seven years. He will surely have the respect of the players.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG