"They have nothing more to give," said Lechkov of Petrov and his namesake Martin, the Bolton Wanderers winger. "It is time for them to retire with dignity."
Harsh? Perhaps. But Lechkov's comments accurately reflect the thoughts of a good many Villa fans, who remain decidedly undecided over the merits of Petrov, a player who has divided opinion as much as any other during his time at Villa Park. More than once, it has seemed as if Petrov's Villa Park career has come to an end; struggling to adapt to the Premier League since arriving from Celtic in August 2006 - the Bulgaria was Martin O'Neill's first signing as Villa manager - the midfielder was dropped for a spell in his second season following a series of underwhelming performances. He bounced back to become a regular, eventually taking the captain's armband, and being a virtual ever-present as Villa secured three consecutive top six finishes. Midfield partners Gareth Barry, and then James Milner, left the club. Petrov did not.
Last season, under Gerard Houllier, Petrov's place in the team was threatened again as the Frenchman sought to stamp his own authority on the Villa team; and yet, despite the emergence of Fabian Delph, the improvement of Nigel Reo-Coker and the addition of Jean II Makoun, it was Petrov's influence in midfield which proved most crucial in the final third of the season as Villa eased away from relegation worries and into the top half of the table.
Since the final days of last season, Reo-Coker has gone. So, too, has Makoun, officially on a season-long loan to Olympiakos but with a view to a permanent move - I'd be surprised to see him in a Villa shirt again. Another young midfield pretender, Jonathan Hogg, has left for Watford. Petrov is still at Villa, still captain, still one of the first names on the team sheet. And seemingly going nowhere. The transfer deadline day arrival of Jermaine Jenas should, one imagines, threaten Petrov's central midfield reign and Jenas in for Petrov was speculated as a change going into last Saturday's game at Goodison Park.
However, I wrote in my pre-match post that, if Jenas did start it would have been at the expense of Delph, the younger man; my hunch was, and still is, that manager Alex McLeish would place greater importance on Petrov's experience than Delph's athleticism. All academic, as it turns out, with Jenas succumbing to a 'nick' and being unfit to make the squad.
Was Petrov motivated by the arrival of Jenas, the backlash of Bulgaria, the lingering threat of losing his place at Villa, the need to prove himself? Maybe, maybe not, but at Goodison Park he served a timely reminder of what he can do, at his very best. His equalising goal was one of simplistic beauty - moving onto Stephen Warnock's pass 30 yards from goal, he shaped his body and bent the ball past Tim Howard. It looked very easy, and a world away from the ugly, shanked shot I recall him attempting a fortnight before against Wolves.
It was a tantalising glimpse of what Petrov can do, and of what Villa fans expected when he arrived five years ago. I certainly envisaged a playmaker, an attacking midfielder, a classic No.10. I think Petrov started out that way, only to have his role adjusted to that of a sitter, a holder, a - dare I say it - a water carrier. Villa's Claude Makelele. The problem with that, is that everyone thinks they want a Makelele until they get one - a player who sits deep, scuttles across the middle of the park, and risk-free percentage possession football. Then they start questioning what else the player actually does. And then comes the criticism.
Petrov certainly enjoyed his goal. Since then, he's admitted he's been given more of a licence to get forward, and he's targeting more goals. These are interesting comments, suggesting a slight change in role for the 32-year-old, but it would a curious switch given Villa's formation and resources. McLeish has set the team up with two central midfielders (Petrov and Delph so far) behind three attacking players and a centre-forward. Those two central midfielders are required to be disciplined and neither can really afford to bomb forward; Petrov hasn't really got the legs to be a box-to-box man.
But it may be that, with Jenas coming into the equation, the burden of being the senior figure in midfield lessens, and Petrov can play a more expansive game. Or, perhaps Jenas comes into a three-man midfield alongside Petrov and Delph; after all, Emile Heskey's hamstring injury will enforce a change over the next few games.
Whatever the manager has in mind, one thing is abundantly clear. Petrov will take some shifting. "I'll keep going as long as I can," was his response to Lechkov's assessment, but he could just have easily been talking about Villa. In six seasons, Petrov has just about seen them all off.
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