In a world influenced more and more by social media, we are surrounded by people who have too much to say for themselves.
There are those who say much to very few, those that say much to too few and there are those that say way too much to way too many and the drivel that comes out of their minds gets them exactly where they want to be; into the limelight.
Thankfully, there remains those who say very little who get still get the love and respect they deserve.
On a day where the game’s biggest club announced a manager change for the first time in three decades, Stiliyan Petrov chose today as a day to retire from football.
For a quiet man, on and off the field, it was fitting and it would have been perfect for him to do what the unassuming footballers do when they retire and disappear from the field quietly, slipping into a career elsewhere in the game.
His life took a different path.
The 33-year-old Aston Villa midfielder, who announced with a heavy heart on Thursday that he has retired from football after winning his battle with Acute Leukaemia, will get the send-off he deserves.
The man affectionately known as ‘Stan’ to his football family has been in the thoughts and prayers of many since being diagnosed with the serious medical condition last March and has since received a standing ovation for a minute at every Villa match the moment the game clock hit 19:00, the number he wore at Villa.
It has been a wonderful tribute and an opportunity for Villa fans to show their solidity in support of their captain, a player who was already in a special place in the heart of Villa fans where only the likes of Paul McGrath, Gordon Cowans and Peter Withe have entered.
Petrov was the perfect Villan. Originally signed by Martin O’Neill as a midfielder who could score, he reinvented himself in front of the intelligent Villa fans, bringing a much-needed assurance from a deeper midfield position where he could execute his outstanding passing game and ignite transitions. While the likes of Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew brought the storm; the Bulgarian brought the calm all clubs need, on and off the field. He was an outstanding captain who never took a game off, a terrific leader who represented a football club, whose badge has a lion on it with the word ‘prepared’ underneath, quite perfectly.
Yet despite all of this, living in North America, I found myself on more than one occasion defending Petrov’s role as captain. Fans of sport on this side of the continent are used to their captains standing in front of microphones – and for some this was enough evidence that the leader of their team was the right man for the job. Football is different. Petrov, who I should say isn’t uncomfortable with the media, simply didn’t need that attention globally.
A football captain’s job is done between the white lines and, of course, once the door closes on their dressing room, and Stan was more than a good enough leader for the four managers he worked under at Villa Park, Martin O’Neill, Kevin MacDonald, Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish.
He was also the perfect skipper for the Holte Enders. Results had not been good for Petrov’s last two playing seasons and throughout that time fans had found it difficult to latch on to specific heroes on the field who wouldn’t subsequently let them down. Petrov, an intelligent midfielder who knew his strengths and limitations, was consistently better than most.
He also, usually once or twice a game, gave those fans that magical moment when he would pick the ball up 25 or 30 yards from goal that immediately prompted them in unison to shout “shooooooooooooooot.”
Of course, since his Celtic days, he missed more times than scored, but the drives from outside the box now and again did go in, such as those days in the 2011-12 season at the Reebok and Goodison Park, leaving Villa fans with lasting images of that wide smile that would appear across his face.
Petrov’s place among the fans of Villa also comes from the way he is as a man, not just a midfielder. Hang around the club you love long enough and you’ll soon get to know what kind of men the footballers are. Anyone who meets Petrov has a similar story to mine.
In 2007, when the club was in Toronto, players mixed with fans in their hotel. My brother, being an obsessive collector of sports memorabilia, latched on to the most personable player in the room and asked him if he could have his shirt that he would be wearing in their game against Toronto FC that night. Petrov wouldn’t disappoint. Following the match, Stan remembered his promise and gave it to him.
No Villa fan in the world had worn their new top yet, so when I put it on for their match in Columbus three days later, it was the talk of the stand. No one had any idea of where it had come from or whose it was. On the back it simply had the number 19 on it and it couldn’t have been more fitting. All too often Villa fans lately have had to cheer for players who care more about the name on the back of the shirt than the one on the front. Petrov was different.
The Courteeners once sung ‘not nineteen forever’ and Manchester United recently adopted it as their theme tune for their 20th title but in the case of Petrov at Villa Park, he will be nineteen forever.
The captain of the lions has spent the best part of the last year fighting for his life, showing all the characteristics he did for the club, needing the heart of Villa’s iconic lion.
His retirement announcement won’t get the column inches nationally, but already Villa fans have declared their final match of the season at Wigan ‘Petrov Day’ where flags and banners will give their former skipper the goodbye party he deserves.
The sadness that comes from the premature end to his playing days should not be forgotten, of course, but Petrov now has a new direction ahead of him, setting up a foundation to raise money to address issues around the diagnosis of leukaemia.
Keep shooooooooooting Stan. You just have a different goal to aim at these days.
Part of this feature was taken from my original post on Stiliyan Petrov in March 2012 when he was originally diagnosed with Acute Leukaemia.