Get Well Soon Stan
There is no other topic that could be discussed in this blog than the health and wellbeing of Stiliyan Petrov. It was announced on Friday 30th March that our captain had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, paling any qualms around the club, of which there are many, into insignificance.
In a season of mere mediocrity rather than spectacular lows, and very few highs one should add, this is undoubtedly the saddest moment in what has been a whimpering campaign.
With an anti-McLeish protest set to be scheduled ahead of tomorrow's game with Chelsea, said organisers have called off all plans for such action, and deserve much credit for realising that football matters, well, just don't matter at this time. All focus must be channelled in the way of support for our leader, our champion.
There is no point in claiming that Petrov's time at Villa has been plain sailing, nor that he was an instant hit at the club, or in British football for that matter. However, a winning spirit has led him to an exceptional career at both club and international level, and it is that spirit that will help him to be victorious in this most terrifying battle.
Signed as a teenager by Celtic in 1999, Petrov struggled to adapt to life in Scotland at first, as an up and coming Bulgarian prospect who didn't speak the language. To help get over this fact he even worked on a friend's burger van to help improve his English - try and find another player, or indeed manager, who would resort to such levels to ensure he became a success in his new home.
A success he well and truly was, named the SPL Player of the Year in his second season at the club and the first under Martin O'Neill. The accolades came from afar too, with Petrov named in the top 3 of the Bulgarian Footballer of the Year Awards in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 (winner), 2005, 2006, 2009 and as recently as 2011 on his way to earning over 100 caps for his nation.
It was a strong relationship formed with O'Neill that brought him to Villa Park as the Ulsterman's first signing in 2006, going on to prove himself as the ex-manager's best piece of business to remain at the club. Again he struggled to acclimatize to the change in pace of the game at first, though he was well into his stride by the 2008/09 season, named the Supporters' and Player's Player of the Year.
Said gong was perhaps the highlight of his time at the club, though gaining the captaincy and some rather stupendous goals against the likes of Derby and Sheffield United have also stood out, with his strikes this season hardly tap ins either. At this stage I would usually ramble on about the stats, and trust me I could, with the skipper leading the club in a number of areas this season in a term in which he has been our most consistent performer while others have shown up in fits and starts. However, like the game itself, my job seems redundant.
When I think of our captain the image that springs to mind, aside from the fact that he is perhaps the sweatiest man ever to grace the turf at Villa Park, is of Petrov in battle mode, bashing the ground or clenching his fists and shouting at himself and teammates with the intent of getting a reaction that will do the side good. Stiliyan has always had this club at heart and is the most important member of our side, with his technical talents often overlooked.
He is an idol to the youngsters coming through, with Gary Gardner recently claiming in an FA organised Twitter Q&A session that, in his admittedly short career, Petrov is the best player he has played alongside, therefore ranking him as the best at the club in the process.
Let us hope that rather than trudge along as we have for much of the season, we can march on for our general, proud and united. I am keen to emphasise, having recently dealt with the loss of a man I was extremely proud to call a friend under similar circumstances, that Stan needs our support as a man first, a husband to Paulina and father to Stiliyan Jnr. and Christian second, and a footballer, in whom we are delighted to call out captain, third.
Our thoughts are with you skip.