Former Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has paid tribute to his former teammates at the club in an exclusive interview with TEAMtalk.
Petrov – who made 218 appearances at Villa – was an integral member of a squad which finished in the top six three seasons in a row and made two trips to Wembley under Martin O’Neill.
Bulgaria’s most capped footballer was part of a midfield which included the likes of Ashley Young, James Milner, Fabian Delph and Gareth Barry. Between them, the quartet have won Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League and tasted domestic success in the FA and EFL Cups.
Petrov admitted he relished playing in a side with such talent.
“I’ve played with exceptional players at my time at Villa with all the names you mentioned,” Petrov reflected. “We’re talking about James Milner as well, Fabian Delph, those were the players who released their potential on the bigger stage.
“Some of them became champions, some of them won the Champions League so that just shows you what kind of players and characters we had at that time.
“We had great individuals, good winners and players which never accepted defeat which made our team very strong. We don’t have to forget about big John Carew as well – we had a great balance in the team with John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor up front.
“They were at the best of their game and they were scoring every game – both of them. We had a great spirit as well, the right spirit!”
Did no VAR cost Villa League Cup glory?
Despite the talent of Villa’s team, which also included Gabriel Agbonlahor [pictured above], Petrov would never lift a trophy during his seven seasons in the Midlands.
Manchester United would deny Petrov his closest chance of winning a medal in the 2009/10 EFL Cup final as they came back from behind to win 2-1.
If VAR had been present in the game, Nemanja Vidic would have been sent off for his last man challenge on Agbonlahor – which Milner converted from the penalty spot in the fifth minute.
While Petrov admitted it may have delivered a different result, he remains proud at the “great friendships” he made during his time at Villa.
“We actually had this conversation a couple of times regarding how good we were and what we could have achieved but this is part of the game. We were very close in the final against Manchester United. I think we deserved better but that’s the way football is.
“We weren’t lucky enough to go and win it. We had a great three seasons, we finished in the top six and one of the seasons we were very close to take that fourth spot.
“But you know what, we can look back and say we could’ve done better but we’ve done well, we created some great friendships going forward with it and we still respect each other to this day.
“Yes, it could’ve been different you know, and we could’ve seen justice in a better way, but we just couldn’t. But it wasn’t there, and we have to accept it and move on with it but like I said we created some amazing memories as a team and as individuals as well,” Petrov added.
Petrov on Villa rejection, his coaching badges and current project
After being forced to retire in 2013, Petrov made a miraculous recovery from his battle with leukemia and began his coaching career at Villa two years later before briefly training the Under-21s.
Despite being a Villa legend and adored by the Holte End, Petrov has since been snubbed by the club on several occasions for roles, something which has angered fans and former players, including Agbonlahor.
Petrov has completed his coaching badges, although he is focusing on a new project that he has co-founded – Player 4 Player.
“I’ve completed everything. I’ve completed my pro license which I completed a month ago. I’ve also completed a master’s degree in Sports Management as well through UEFA which was really challenging.
“At the moment, I am involved in a completely different project – it’s a project we are very proud of. It’s a collective from a few former players which we are aiming to help and educate current and former players for a better future to be strong individuals and to make sure they have the right opportunities and the right preparation for life after football.
“It’s called Player 4 Player. For players by players. We’ve walked every single stage of our career as current and former players. We know the challenges, we know how much the players suffer after they retire so we would like to be there to offer guidance, education and mentoring to make sure the players will have a voice and be stronger when they finish and even when they are at their peak.
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“No, I’ve actually applied for a couple of positions but there didn’t turn out to be any feedback or anything that happened going forward but this is the way of life in football,” Petrov said when asked about why he has been unable to secure a coaching role at Villa.
“It’s like being in a football field – if something is not working for you then you have to move on, try different things and make sure you get feedback in the industry and it’s difficult, it’s difficult.
“But listen, it’s something that I’ve tried. I’d love to take a position there but obviously there was nothing available and they had something else in mind.
“This is the way it is, and I move forward, that’s why creating Player 4 Player will give players understanding of how difficult after finishing your career is and you have to be able to be confident, educated and trust in your ability and make sure you fight to become something else,” Petrov concluded.
By Joe Hewlett (@JoeBoxing365)
READ MORE: Petrov backs English trio to lead Aston Villa to a top-half finish