By Amir Mir
Aston Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo has hailed fans favourite Stiliyan Petrov by describing calling him an example to everybody.
Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012 which forced him to retire from the game 14 months later, but the ex-Villa captain has since made a remarkable return and is now eyeing a return to the professional game.
Di Matteo hailed the Bulgarian’s influence on the team and the standards he has set as they prepare for the forthcoming Championship season.
“I think he’s an example of bravery and willingness to everybody that is here,” Di Matteo told AVTV. “The fact that he has come to pre-season, he has not missed one minute, then you can see how hard he is working in training.”
The 37-year-old is training with the Championship club and made a comeback by playing in the second half of their 8-0 friendly win over Austrian side GAK 1802.
As it stands, the ex-Villa captain’s involvement is on a non-contract basis with a view of earning a permanent deal if he impresses during pre-season.
Ex-Chelsea man Di Matteo spoke highly of the 37-year-old after he made his remarkable comeback, despite the difficult obstacles he had to take on.
“The story he has gone through, the past, so it’s a remarkable journey for him and I told him the other day I think he’s an example for all of us.” said Di Matteo.
Petrov made over 100 appearances for the Midlands outfit before his illness and was an integral figure in the Martin O’Neill team that finished 6th on three occasions during the Northern Irishman’s four-year period at the club.
Those time have subsequently changed with the club sitting in the Championship, after relegation last term, but Di Matteo insists he understands why the midfielder was admired at Villa Park.
“He’s a fantastic person to have within the group, a really cheerful man, who is very positive and works hard,” said Di Matteo.
“He always tries his best, very committed and dedicated. I can see why he was the favourite and why he was the Villa captain.”
The former Celtic man played in the second half of the club’s first pre-season encounter and Di Matteo revealed the impression Petrov has made on him.
“He’s hit very good standards, as I said he has not missed one minute, he’s hanging in there and doing very well. So, it is quite impressive.” said Di Matteo.
The Champions League-winning manager will now be planning for the forthcoming Championship season when Villa take on Sheffield Wednesday on 7 August, their first game outside of the top-tier since 1987.