Stiliayn Petrov says he wants to play professional football again with a return to Aston Villa the primary target.
The former Villa captain was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2012 and was forced to retire from the game as he underwent three spells of chemotherapy. However, the Bulgarian has been training with Aston Villa’s U21 team and claims his fitness is at the same level as when he bid farewell for the first time.
Speaking at the launch of the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation Golf Day at The Belfry, Petrov announced his desire to make a fairytale return to the game.
“I’m looking forward to a return to football again,” he said. “I’ve told Aston Villa that I’m ready to start a pre-season with them. Obviously they will always have the first look.
“I’ve been working close to the idea for a year-and-a-half and I’ve managed to come a long way. I started gradually with slow runs then I moved to five-a-side and then 11-a-side and half a pitch, then Sunday league.
“I’ve been given permission to train with Villa U21s for the last four months. We’ve done a couple of tests in the last two weeks and my fitness is getting close to when I retired. I’m really excited and I understand the odds will be against me.”
“People will be asking a lot of questions and having a lot of doubts,” Petrov said. “Obviously I wasn’t one of these players who sprinted in wide positions. I’ll be playing in a position that for me has always been five-to-10 yards. You can gain that with hard work.
“I’m really excited because of how far I have come. The Foundation deal with a lot of people who work hard to get back to their natural life after treatment so I want to show people that there is a life after treatment and you can step on your own feet and get fitter.
“I’m getting fitter, I’m getting my life back to like what it used to be and it’s a way forward. I deal with a lot of people who struggle to get their life back on track after going through treatment like that. It’s hard. The family, the future, it’s dark out there.
“I’ve got it in my mind, even if it doesn’t happen, I’ve tried. It was taken away from me. I’ve worked hard all my life to be a footballer and it was taken away from me. I’ve been given a chance again to do it.
“I’m 36, but players are playing at 38, 39, 40. I’ve looked after myself well and I think I’ve got a good shout.”
Aston Villa have been relegated to the Championship after a woeful season that has seen them win just 3 times and lose a staggering 25 out of 35 games in the league, picking up only 16 points in the process with a goal difference of -44.
Petrov says life in the Championship will be tough with a hectic and physically demanding fixture list.
“They’re relegated not just because of individual error but collective error,” he said. “Now they need to understand they have 12 big months ahead and everyone needs to pull in the right direction.
“Fans, the new board, the players, everyone needs to understand there needs to be a hard 12 months, it’ll be a bumpy road, playing Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday. But if everyone pulls together then we can make this club great again.”