Celtic FC's Stilian Petrov is set for a major role in Wednesday night's UEFA Cup final.
By Roddy Forsyth
He is known to the Celtic FC fans as Stan - a sure sign that Stilian Petrov has been fully integrated into Scottish life.
The Bulgarian midfield player, who captained his country at Under-21 level and is now skipper of the full national side, looked as if he might be on the way out of Celtic Park earlier this season when he was dissatisfied about the new deal on offer to him but, happily for Celtic fans, Stan agreed a fresh contract and looks set to be around for some time to come.
'Happy in Glasgow'
As an adopted Glaswegian, Petrov is happy with life. "There was some talk that I might be leaving but we sat down and eventually it was all sorted out, which pleased me very much because my family is very happy in Glasgow and I really enjoy playing for Celtic," he said.
Old Firm comeback
It could be argued that Petrov was affected by the uncertainty over his future because for a spell this term he was not quite the effective performer he had been previously. However, his return to form was signalled with two fine goals against Motherwell FC two weeks ago in a victory which kept the pressure on Rangers FC as the Scottish championship goes to the wire.
'We're all on form'
"It's not just me - I think we're all on form right now," Petrov said. "It's happened just at the right time, too. Look at players like Alan Thompson, Neil Lennon and Shaun Maloney all doing well."
With Welsh international striker John Hartson ruled out because of a slipped disc, Petrov will almost certainly be asked to play behind a front pair of Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton in Wednesday's UEFA Cup final and it is in that job, shuttling the ball on from midfield and reinforcing his forwards inside the penalty area, that the Bulgarian excels.
"I really enjoy my role because it allows me to get into the box knowing that Paul Lambert and Neil Lennon are standing behind me," he said. "Sometimes I say to myself that I can rest easy knowing there are two great players covering for me and that's so important when you have to decide whether or not to get into an attacking position.
"Paul Lambert has told me about the excitement of being in a European final," he added. "He said, 'When you get out there you will never forget it'. [FC] Porto are a very strong side and I have seen them a few times but they have their weaknesses too, and we will try to stop them playing the way they want to while we play our game.
"When we beat [VfB] Stuttgart we said, 'We can do it now'," said Petrov. "I believe we can and I certainly hope we can because I have had really great support from my Bulgarian teammates for this game. I have had phone calls and messages and some of them are coming over to Spain. My family will be there, too.
'A wonderful opportunity'
"I am only 23 years old and I am still learning the game so to play in this UEFA Cup final in Seville is a wonderful opportunity for me."