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Posted by Kevin Hughes on 03/30/2012

I was exactly 232 words into this week's Villa column when I heard the news. Stiliyan Petrov, Villa's captain, has been diagnosed with acute leukemia.

Rumour and gossip can spread like wildfire in today's online world, and, for a few minutes I clung to the hope that the breaking news was the work of a malicious individual. It was sadly and swiftly confirmed by an official Aston Villa club statement: after complaining of a fever following Villa's game against Arsenal last week, Petrov underwent tests and haematology experts confirmed the diagnosis.

Villa pledged and promised 'every ounce of love and support' for its club captain. He'll get that, and he'll also get it in spades from the club's supporters, who will rightly recognise that any discontent surrounding the club and its performance in the Premier League will take a major backseat from now on. Frankly, when you hear this kind of news, it renders anything on the field obsolete.

Petrov has been an integral part of the Villa side since signing in August 2006. In many ways, he was the playing symbol of the exciting new Martin O'Neill-Randy Lerner era; with time running out for the newly-installed Villa manager to add to the squad he inherited, O'Neill quickly snapped up the man who had been so influential for him at Celtic. Petrov cost Villa £6.5m; after six seasons as a regular member of the starting X1, that's got to rank as one of the club's best-value signings, pound for pound.

The Bulgarian arrived at Villa with a reputation as a gifted playmaker; he scored goals for fun in Scotland. He did suffer a period of adapting to the Premier League and found less freedom. Villa didn't totally boss matches in the same way that Celtic did in the SPL. Nevertheless, after a brief spell out of the side in the early part of his second season as a Villain, Petrov recaptured his place. And he's been a constant fixture since.

He deserves enormous credit for reinventing himself as a more defensive midfield player. An unlikely conversion, perhaps, but it worked for Petrov and Villa: while Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner had licence to roam forward, the captain provided the stability in the middle of the park. Not an obvious ball-winner, he made up for that by sheer graft and would quickly close opponents down. The sight of Petrov, with sweat glistening on his face after putting everything into the game, became a common one.

Once on the ball, Petrov was able to show his quality. That was the real benefit of fielding him in a slightly deeper role - his sensible use of possession, his ability to 'get Villa going' by moving the ball simply and effectively.

Of course, he was still able to make an impact going forward. No-one will ever forget the audacious goal he scored at Derby a few years back, controlling a wayward goalkeeping clearance on his chest on the halfway line before volleying in. Or the late, replay-earning header at Crystal Palace in O'Neill's last season in charge, the season Villa made it through to the FA Cup semi-finals.

This season, with the defensive shackles off him slightly, and the likes of Fabian Delph, Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd sharing the workload in midfield, there was a sense that Petrov was enjoying his football, and certainly the goals he scored at Everton and Sunderland were timely reminders of his ability. Right out of the top drawer, to use a favourite footballing phrase.

News of his illness is sudden and shocking, and thoughts are with Petrov as he begins his fight against it. Villa fans will sleepwalk through the remainder of the season and beyond; our eyes might be on the pitch, but our thoughts will be elsewhere.

Comments

Posted by Zarch on 03/31/2012

Hope he gets better. I also hope it doesn't spell an end to his career. His devotion to the club is to be admired and i hope when he's recovered and he comes back in some capacity.

Posted by James boyle on 03/31/2012

God bless Stan Petrov, I'll keep you in my prayers.

Posted by Damien on 03/31/2012

I really hope Petrov gets through this. No one deserves to be struck by such an evil disease.

Posted by Tom on 03/31/2012

A consummate professional and a player Villa fans could be proud of even in defeat. Why do bad things happen to good people? Get well Stan.

Posted by Sunny on 04/03/2012

Top professional and person, get well soon Stan.

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About
Kevin Hughes Kevin Hughes spent the best part of ten years working and writing for the football magazine Match; once (sort of) inspiring David Beckham to copy his shaved-hair look, getting lost in Paris after the 1998 France v Croatia World Cup semi-final and other such nonsense. As Deputy Editor, he launched and established Sport, the London-based free weekly magazine, before moving on to become a consumer magazine publisher, a position he holds today. Introduced to Villa by his father and grandfather, he attended his first ever match at Villa Park as a seven-year-old in 1982… and has suffered almost constant disappointment since. You can follow him on twitter @KevHughesie

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