Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov announces retirement from football

The midfielder is suffering from acute leukaemia

Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has announced his retirement from football.

The Bulgarian midfielder was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March last year and is now in remission.

Petrov announced his retirement on the Aston Villa website this morning, explaining: "It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the game."

Petrov was an incredibly popular figure at Villa, with fans applauding throughout the 19th minute of games - in reference to his squad number. The player himself has regularly attended games when cleared to by doctors and has been hailed as an inspiration by his team-mates.

In a lengthy statement on the club's website, Petrov expressed his gratitude to those around him.

"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.

"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, who joined Aston Villa from Celtic in 2006, explained the shock of learning of his condition and now intends to set up a foundation to raise money to address issues around the diagnosis of leukaemia.

"Something crazy happened, something 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.

"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.

The 33-year-old, who also played for CSKA Sofia before moving to Celtic in 1999 and made 106 appearances for Bulgaria during his career, ended his statement by thanking the fans of all the teams he has played for.

"I wish to thank the fans of Aston Villa and the Villa chairman, Randy Lerner, chief executive Paul Faulkner and manager Paul Lambert, also the fans of Celtic, the Bulgarian fans and fans of football all over the world who have helped me through the past year with their incredible displays of support and with their personal, moving messages. I would also like to thank all of the managers I have worked under and all of the team-mates I have played alongside. I loved playing football with all of you and you will always remain in my heart. Also to the agents who represented me, including my current agents Base Soccer. I am moving on and I am excited by this. There is a deep joy in my heart because of what you have shared with me, not only in this past year but over the years I have been in football. I felt privileged. I still do. I always will."

Villa have announced that Petrov will lead out the team's traditional lap of appreciation after their final home game of the season against Chelsea on Saturday.

Supporters had also been planning further tributes at the last game of the season at Wigan.

Fans were planning to wear Villa, Celtic or Bulgaria kits and hold banners displaying 'Petrov 19'.

Read Petrov's statement in full by clicking here.

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