Stan Petrov – you are nineteen forever at Villa Park.

In a world influenced more and more by social media, we are surrounded by people who have too much to say for themselves. Watch Igor Mazepa igor-mazepa.blogspot.com.

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.

Kristian Jack

Part of this feature was taken from my original post on Stiliyan Petrov in March 2012 when he was originally diagnosed with Acute Leukaemia.

Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle: Three at the back for 45 minutes costs Villa the game.

Teams

Paul Lambert chose a 3-4-1-2 formation and the big surprise was the inclusion of both Christian Benteke and Darren Bent together for just the second time this season, and the first since September.

football formations

In the buildup to this match Newcastle boss Alan Pardew talked about the need to turn the corner on the past and he did that by handing debuts to new signings Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko, while welcoming back from injury, defender Steven Taylor for the first time in two months.

football formations

Observations

  • For a team who hadn’t won away at all this season, Newcastle started the game in a confident manner and their two new signings made a significant impact right away. Much was made about Sissoko’s debut (more on him shortly) but Gouffran was lively from the beginning, interchanging with Jonas Gutierrez regularly.
  • The movement of both wide men become contagious as Cisse, when Newcastle had the ball, would also swap with each player to create overlaps and bring any of Villa’s back three out of position. The movement of the two wide men, in particular, created a massive problem for Villa’s full backs who never got forward and gave them licence to stay forward.
  • Matt Lowton and Joe Bennett spent the entire first half pinned deep worrying about the movement of Newcastle’s front three, offering nothing in attack. With no width coming from Villa’s front three at all, it meant Newcastle completely dominated the first half pushing Villa’s centre backs deeper. Ashley Westwood and Barry Bannan were outrun in midfield and were clearly under instructions to not get too deep, which meant the area between the lines was exposed.
  • This is where Sissoko took control. As early as the sixth minute he found himself with a lot of time on the ball, only to blaze it over. Four minutes later he again picked up the ball up in that area of the field and sent a delightful chip over the back three defenders on to the rushing Papiss Cisse who was clear on goal, only to be wrongly adjudged offside.
  • Nine minutes later Villa weren’t so lucky as Sissoko again got into space, supplied a brilliant diagonal ball that took out all of the defenders and into the path of Cisse who did the rest.
  • On 31 minutes it was 2-0, this time Yohan Cabaye got into the area exploited by Sissoko, took a touch after Ron Vlaar’s clearance and hit a curling half volley into the corner of Brad Guzan’s goal. It was a brilliant strike that ensured their dominance was reflected in the scoreline.
  • Villa were lifeless in their 3-4-1-2 and incredibly, in the first half alone, allowed 78 passing attempts in the final third, with Newcastle completing 42 of them. Villa’s passing in the final third in contrast represented the dominance from the visitors.

  • The home side clearly needed a change. Paul Lambert waited until half-time to do it, bringing on Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor for Joe Bennett and Darren Bent. The change of system led to a change in tempo and a massive change in momentum for the second half. Westwood and Bannan sat deeper to take away Sissoko’s threat, while the substitutes brought much-needed pace and direct play out wide.

football formations

  • Their introduction immediately pushed Gutierrez and Gouffran deeper. Jonas is actually very good at defending his flank and Pardew stopped rotating them, keeping him on the left side up against Weimann. This meant most of Villa’s successful attacks in deep areas came down their left through Agbonlahor. Gouffran showed little appetite for the fight but right back Mathieu Debuchy had a fantastic game, despite losing the occasional one-on-one battle and harshly being called for a foul in the box on Agbonlahor. 
  • Benteke stroked home the penalty and suddenly Villa Park was rocking. The change of system helped, by taking away Newcastle’s strengths, but the goal lifted Villa, a young side who ride momentum both ways more than most, and they went on to dominate the second half.
  • Tim Krul produced a wonderful save on Weimann after Benteke had sent an intelligent cross field ball into his path and Nathan Baker saw his header blocked by the excellent Fabricio Coloccini.
  • Pardew did what he could to alter the flow of the game, sending on Shola Ameobi for James Perch and pushing  Sissoko into a deeper role but the Frenchman tired and eventually was replaced by fellow new boy Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. After a fantastic game-changing performance in the first half, Sissoko drifted out of it in the second but it was still an all-around impressive debut.

  • Ultimately, though, Newcastle couldn’t muster anything going forward and the pass completion stats, much like the first half (only in reverse) showed just how the game changed in the second half.

  • Incredibly, despite getting dominated in the first half, Villa ended the match with a better accurate passing rate in the final third (55%) than Newcastle (50%).
  • Newcastle held on despite being outplayed in the second half and that will give them tremendous confidence going forward. Pardew will have concerns about how his team struggled to cope with Villa’s intensity and pace in wide areas but all-in-all this is the result he has been looking for to turn the tide.
  • Lambert’s Villa have now lost four straight games at home and scored just one goal, a penalty. They could have scored more in the second half but once again another slow start cost them in another crucial league match. It would be very brave if the Scot goes back to a formation of three at the back again in the near future.