When Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov announced his departure and eventual retirement from the game due to a diagnosis of leukemia, it shocked everyone involved in the sport.
The good news reached the soccer community last September that the disease had gone into remission, and the Bulgarian midfielder was able to return to a normal life, albeit a life off the pitch.
In an interview with The Mirror, Petrov told the media his ordeal was like something out of Dante’s Inferno.
“I don’t know what Hell is like, but this has to be worse, I’ll tell you that” said the 34-year-old.
Those are incredibly strong words from a man who Aston Villa fans have embraced both on and off the pitch, and would no doubt be echoed by anyone connected with the disease.
“Stan” said that retiring from soccer was a very difficult decision, but he was left with no other option. “As a player you fight to be in the team but this you are fighting for your life and that is the main thing” said Petrov. “To give up was really hard for me but it is a bigger prize here to fight for your life to be closer to your family for longer so I had no choice.”
Petrov credits Paul Lambert with much of his success since the devastating diagnosis, and to now work for Villa with the reserve squad was partly to remain in contact with his former manager.
“I am working for Villa now and go in every day to see the boys” Petrov said. “It is going to be a exciting season with a young, exciting first team. I am working with the reserve team and Sid Cowans. We try to make them ready to make the big step into the first team.
“At this age there are lot of ifs – if they can make it – but I want to help in this way and Paul Lambert who is my boss now. He is an incredible man who supported me so much.”
For a man who was forced with a harsh reality and needed to dig deep in order to make it through, Petrov – like Dante – has seemingly made it through Hell and back.