Former Bulgaria midfielder Stiliyan Petrov has announced his retirement from football.
The 33-year-old was diagnosed with leukaemia in March 2012 but is now in remission after 12 months of treatment. "I've had my hard moments but I've had good moments as well," he said. "I'm lucky because some people with this disease die very quickly. I'm glad that this hard year is behind me now and I can concentrate on getting back to my life. For the life I've lived in football, I will always be incredibly grateful."
Throughout this season Aston Villa FC supporters – and many opposition fans and coaches – have applauded throughout the 19th minute of every game in reference to 'Stan's' squad number. Petrov admits to being humbled. "I don't know how I can thank the fans. Some people go through these diseases on their own while I have had the support of millions around the world."
Even before today's announcement it was revealed that Villa's last match of the Premier League season away to Wigan Athletic FC would be 'Stiliyan Petrov day' in a further act of solidarity. Supporters plan to wear Villa, Celtic FC and Bulgaria kits and they will hold banners displaying the words 'Petrov 19'.
Petrov spent a decade and a half in the UK after joining Celtic from PFC CSKA Sofia in 1999. A title winner in Bulgaria, he landed four more championships in Scotland and was a key player in the team that reached the 2003 UEFA Cup final, losing 3-2 to FC Porto in Seville. He moved south of the border in 2006 and soon became a fans' favourite, eventually assuming the Villa club captaincy.
He became the first outfield player to win 100 caps for Bulgaria two years ago and his overall tally of 106 makes him the country's record appearance maker. His Bulgaria debut came, aged 19, in a friendly against Morocco in December 1998 and he played twice at UEFA EURO 2004, Bulgaria's last major tournament, before taking the captain's armband.
Asked recently about his plans for the future, he said: "First of all I'm going to spend some time with the family, show them that things are back to normal and feel a bit more comfortable. The kids especially have really missed me and they're happy that I'm home. I'm hoping to open my foundation soon and I'm going to start raising money and awareness for leukaemia and different charities."
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.