The Aston Villa captain, Stiliyan Petrov, was in a positive frame of mind before starting treatment for acute leukaemia at the weekend, his former Celtic team-mate John Hartson said yesterday.
Hartson, who beat testicular cancer in 2009, said he believed the 32-year-old Bulgaria midfielder's fitness would help him. "He's the kind of lad who wants to tackle this head on," the former Wales striker said. "He's very strong. His fitness, I'm sure, will help him. He knows he has so much support throughout football."
Hartson said he had spoken to Petrov on Sunday, before the Villa player started his treatment at a London hospital. "A lot of it is psychological," said Hartson. "You have to get your head around what is happening and deal with it as openly as you can. You know there is a lot of support out there when you are battling a near-death experience like I went through. Stiliyan knows he has support from his peers and his family which will be very important for him.
The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, also wished Petrov well yesterday. The diagnosis of Petrov's illness was publicly announced on Friday, sparking a wave of sympathy and encouraging messages for the Bulgarian. That was most notable on Saturday as players from both Villa and Chelsea wore T-shirts showing their support during the warm-up ahead of the Premier League match at Villa Park.
Petrov addressed the Villa squad in the dressing room prior to their 4-2 defeat. He stayed on as a spectator at the match with his family, and stood to acknowledge an ovation from both sets of supporters in the 19th minute, timed to match the player's squad number.
Using Twitter, Blatter said: "Very sad to hear about Stiliyan Petrov's illness. Wish him strength in his fight to win this battle. Support shown at Villa Park by both sets of fans another sign of all that is good in football."
Petrov will initially embark on a course of steroids and tablets that will prepare him for chemotherapy.
His close friend and compatriot Martin Petrov said he had decided to play in Bolton's 3-2 win at Wolves on Saturday only after the 32-year-old told him he wanted him to do so. The Bolton winger scored a penalty at Molineux and celebrated by revealing a T-shirt with "Be Strong Stan" written across it.
The pair had spoken on Friday, with the Villa man indicating he did not want the news of his condition to stop anyone playing. Bolton's Petrov said: "It was very difficult when Stan told me this. It's incredible that he was at the Aston Villa game but that shows the character he has.
"I'm sure he is going to win this fight. I made the decision to play this game after I spoke with him on Friday. He told me that he had wanted the Aston Villa players to play their match and that he wanted me to do the same. He said that he is going to fight, and so that was enough for me.
"It's more bad news after what has happened in the last couple of weeks with Fabrice [Muamba, the Bolton midfielder who is recovering from the cardiac arrest he suffered on the pitch in an FA Cup tie at Tottenham on 17 March] – it's the first time that I've known anything like this in my career. I'm strong and I will pray for Stan."
The two players' friendship dates back many years, as they lived together in Bulgaria in the 1990s when they were team-mates at CSKA Sofia.