In the 20 years plus of being an Aston Villa supporter, there have only ever been a few players which I have looked up to and refereed to them as a hero or legend of our great club. The likes of Ian Taylor, Paul Mcgrath and Gareth Barry. These are, in my opinion natural leaders for our club, true professionals and players any fan would love to call their heroes. Then there is Stiliyan Petrov, I think we should put aside his illness for a moment and remember the footballer and character he was prior.

Stan was our captain and our leader, he was Martin O’Neill’s first signing back in 2006 and despite an inconsistent first couple of seasons at the club, Stan improved to scoop player of the year awards and become our captain. Stan was a key part of the squad that ensured three successive top six finishes. He was never one to moan or groan and was a gentleman to players and fans alike. His level head and natural leadership was always what I admired the most.

When it was announced that Stan had Acute leukaemia back in March 2012, I for one was devastated. I had a friend who had previously suffered from the illness and I know the impact it can have on you both physically and mentally. Stan tackled the illness head on. The support of his family, friends and the fans have all played a part in Stan’s recovery. In early August 2012, it was announced that Stan’s leukaemia was in remission. Stan announced his retirement form the game in May 2013, but went on to experience coaching rolls with Villa as well as spending valuable time with his family. Stan continued to play football and in April 2015. helped Wychall Wanderers (his Sunday league team) win silverware. Clearly still showing his love for the game. This in itself is a fairy tale.  fast forward to late June and the fairy tale continues when Aston Villa announce that Stan will be included as part of the Aston Villa squad on a training camp in Austria. Stan himself played in the 8-0 friendly win against GAK 1902 .

What next?

The aim for Stan is simple, he wants to get match fit and start playing professional football again. Only time will tell whether this will happen under Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa but early feedback would suggest that there should be no reason that Stan won’t be offered a new deal. Left back Joe Bennett praised Stan earlier in the week by saying:

“He’s obviously been through a tough time and I’ve got a lot of respect for him and you can see, when he’s out there, he can still play football.

He’s still got it and I think Stan can play a big part for us this season,”

As reported today on the Aston Villa official website, manager Roberto Di Matteo was also singing Stan’s praises:

“He is a fantastic person to have within the group. He’s a very cheerful man, very positive, works hard, always tries his best. 

He is very committed and very dedicated. I can see why he was a favourite and the captain. 

Stiliyan has hit very good standards. As I said, he’s not missed one minute. He’s hanging in there. He’s doing very well. It’s quite impressive”

It is great to see so much positivity, the guy has been through so much and really does deserves a 2nd chance. I really hope he is offered a new deal. In My mind there is no doubt that there are clubs out there that will be ready to snap him up. I think Aston Villa will do themselves no favours in building up praise just to let him go.

If Stan is not offered a new contract, the club has to do everything it can to keep Stan in whatever capacity it can, whether that be as a coach or part of the board. It’s clear to everyone associated to the club, the inspiration and the lift he provides. In tough times ahead, Stan can draw upon his football/illness experiences and through this will be able to inspire, motivate and galvanise a team. I fear that Stan’s ambition to play football again will mean if he is not offered a contract he will move on in order to fulfill the 2nd chance he has been given.