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May 9, 2013

Stiliyan Petrov announces retirement

Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has announced his retirement from football to continue his fight against leukaemia through his new charity organisation.

The Bulgarian midfielder has not played for Villa since he was diagnosed with the illness in March 2012 and the 33-year-old has decided to call time on his career.

Petrov admits it is with a "heavy heart" that he has decided to retire, but may still have a coaching role to play under manager Paul Lambert, with Villa believed to be considering offering him a role at the club's Bodymoor Heath training complex.

He is still receiving treatment for the illness but he is excited by the challenge of helping other leukaemia suffers fight the disease.

"Football has been the other great love of my life, so it is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the game," he said in a statement on the official Villa website." The emotions are overwhelming really, but the continued support of family, friends and the great people I have come to know will make it easier for me to move on from the only life I've ever known.

"That I am ready to embrace new challenges will make this process much easier. Since being diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012, I have come to understand and appreciate the way in which this disease impacts the lives of so many people.

"I can help and I want to help and, in setting up a foundation to help address the issues involved when people are diagnosed with this illness, I hope to make a difference. This will be my new challenge, one I will face with all the enthusiasm, energy and drive with which I have faced every single challenge."

Petrov moved to Celtic from CSKA Sofia in 2006 under Martin O'Neill and became the Northern Irishman's first signing at Villa Park when O'Neill took over as manager from David O'Leary.

He will be forever known as "Stan" to Villa supporters who mark his illness with a minute's applause in the 19th minute of every game in recognition of their captain's squad number.

Petrov was diagnosed last year after a game at the Emirates which the Bulgarian international will never forget, adding: "I thought was just a cold but turned out to be something more serious, something life-changing. I played 90 minutes for Villa against Arsenal at the Emirates and I felt fatigued, not myself at all. But I thought it was nothing serious. The diagnosis by Dr Richard Lovell was a complete shock.

"Around 7,600 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with leukaemia and about 2,300 people with acute leukaemia. Fortunately, I was able to make decisions very quickly and I started my treatment quickly. I needed to.

"My leukaemia is now in remission and I have finished my high intensity treatment. From now on I'll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets. I feel lucky. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been.

"For this I need to thank Professor David Linch at University College London Hospital, his PA Teresa Macdonald and all of the nurses and staff at that wonderful institution. Thank you also to Professor Charlie Craddock, Sandeep Nagra and all of the nurses who have looked after me at University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

"For the life I've lived in football, I will always be incredibly grateful. For the opportunity this crazy thing that happened in my life has given me, I also feel grateful in a strange kind of way. This crazy thing, somehow, has touched people and I want to try to channel this in a positive way. This will be the greatest challenge of my life."

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