Stiliyan Petrov has announced his retirement from football. The former Bulgaria international and Aston Villa club captain, who has been suffering from acute leukaemia since last March, made the announcement today with a statement on the club’s official website.
“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,” Petrov said.
A cultured midfielder with an striking capacity to cover the pitch from box to box throughout games, Petrov moved to Glasgow Celtic from CSKA Sofia – where he had won a league title and two cups – in 1999 for £2m. A culture shock awaited the young man and he endured a first year played out of position, battling intense homesickness and, unable to speak English, a sense of isolation in the Celtic squad.
Dedication to learn English, aided by a stint working in a friend’s burger van in Glasgow, saw his fortunes make a change for the better. As he settled his form followed, leading to the honour of being the first foreign player awarded the SPFA Young Player of the Year, alongside a domestic treble with Celtic.
Petrov made over 300 appearances for the Parkhead side before moving to Aston Villa, where he was reunited with former Celtic boss Martin O’Neill for a price of £6.5m. 2009 was a year of personal accolade for the Bulgarian, winning the awards for Aston Villa Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year.
Petrov’s was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March of last year but has since battled the disease into remission. Petrov wore the number 19 shirt for Villa and, in each home game since his diagnosis, Villa fans have offered a minute’s applause throughout the nineteenth minute, as a show of support.
Petrov expressed his gratitude for his life in football in a touching, personal statement announcing his retirement.
“For the life I've lived in football, I will always be incredibly grateful. For the opportunity this crazy thing that happened in my life has given me, I also feel grateful in a strange kind of way. This crazy thing, somehow, has touched people and I want to try to channel this in a positive way. This will be the greatest challenge of my life,” he said.
“I am moving on and I am excited by this. There is a deep joy in my heart because of what you have shared with me, not only in this past year but over the years I have been in football. I felt privileged. I still do. I always will.”
Prior to the annoucnement Villa fans had announced plans to make their final game of the season, away to Wigan at the DW Stadium, "Stiliyan Petrov" day, as a show of support for the player. Fans will wear Celtic, Villa and Bulgaria jerseys, with Petrov's number 19 on the back. Petrov will lead his Villa teammates in a lap of appreciation.
Full text of Stiliyan Petrov statement
I've never been a person for making grand statements. I've only ever got on with my job, while remaining grateful to have great team-mates, great people around me and, most of all, a fantastic family. They have been powerful pillars of support when I have needed them most over the past year. To my wife, Paulina, and my sons, Kristiyan and Stiliyan, I love you very much and I will always for your constant love and support. Also to my mum and dad, my brother and Paulina's mum and the people who have been closest to me throughout this time - you know who you are and I love you all. Each and every day I thank God for giving me the opportunity to still be with my family.
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. Since being diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012, I have come to understand and appreciate the way in which this disease impacts the lives of so many people. I can help and I want to help and, in setting up a foundation to help address the issues involved when people are diagnosed with this illness, I hope to make a difference. This will be my new challenge, one I will face with all the enthusiasm, energy and drive with which I have faced every single challenge.
I remember when I was a young player at CSKA Sofia and the good life was all I was interested in. Celtic came in for me and I moved to Glasgow, to another country, to a new world. I didn't speak the language and I thought it would never happen for me. I knew nobody.
Fortunately, I met people who helped me to turn my life around. I came to know great teammates who showed me the proper way, the way I had to be if I was going to be a serious professional and compete at a high level. I came to appreciate so much the opportunity to work with that level of professional people because it made me something like them. At Celtic Football Club and at Aston Villa Football Club I was privileged to live a life competing at a high level and playing the game I love, supported by the most passionate fans.
Then something crazy happened, something I thought was just a cold but turned out to be something more serious, something life-changing. I played 90 minutes for Villa against Arsenal at The Emirates and I felt fatigued, not myself at all. But I thought it was nothing serious. The diagnosis by Dr Richard Lovell was a complete shock.
Around 7,600 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with leukaemia and about 2,300 people with acute leukaemia. Fortunately, I was able to make decisions very quickly and I started my treatment quickly. I needed to. My leukaemia is now in remission and I have finished my high intensity treatment. From now on I'll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets. I feel lucky. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been.
For this I need to thank Professor David Linch at University College London Hospital, his PA Teresa Macdonald and all of the nurses and staff at that wonderful institution. Thank you also to Professor Charlie Craddock, Sandeep Nagra and all of the nurses who have looked after me at University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
For the life I've lived in football, I will always be incredibly grateful. For the opportunity this crazy thing that happened in my life has given me, I also feel grateful in a strange kind of way. This crazy thing, somehow, has touched people and I want to try to channel this in a positive way. This will be the greatest challenge of my life.
I wish to thank the fans of Aston Villa and the Villa chairman, Randy Lerner, chief executive Paul Faulkner and manager Paul Lambert, also the fans of Celtic, the Bulgarian fans and fans of football all over the world who have helped me through the past year with their incredible displays of support and with their personal, moving messages. I would also like to thank all of the managers I have worked under and all of the team-mates I have played alongside. I loved playing football with all of you and you will always remain in my heart. Also to the agents who represented me, including my current agents Base Soccer. I am moving on and I am excited by this. There is a deep joy in my heart because of what you have shared with me, not only in this past year but over the years I have been in football. I felt privileged. I still do. I always will.