BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: The big screen shows a message of support for Stiliyan Petrov during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers at Villa Park on April 24, 2012 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
I'm not even sure how I can write this player review objectively. There's plenty of things that can be said about Stiliyan Petrov's season from a football perspective, but none of that really seems to matter, does it? As I'm sure you all remember, it was announced on March 30 that Stan had acute leukemia. It was, in the midst of one of the club's worst seasons ever, the worst piece of news we heard all year.
Petrov was a constantly frustrating player, someone who could score from 35 yards out every once in a while, but shot like he could do it every time. Some days he would on the pitch, but you'd never be able to tell by the results. On other days he was clearly the best player in claret and blue. But to he credit, he was always classy, and was always one of the best representatives Villa could have asked for. It was easy to get upset with Petrov's play, it was nearly impossible to get upset with Petrov himself.
And this season was no exception. Before the terrible news, we saw ups and downs from Petrov. There were times when most of us didn't want him to start or perhaps even wanted to see him traded. But then there were plenty of times when he shined. The midfielder ended up winning the players' player of the year award for Aston Villa, and while it's easy to say that some of that can be chalked up to solidarity, there's also a case to be made that in this terrible season Stan legitimately deserved it.
Those really frustrating times of Petrov's play stick out in my mind a lot, but as I look back, they were actually pretty few and far between. I guess I remember them mostly because they represent extremes. In general, Petrov was a solid player for most of the season. Whoscored.com measures a huge number of statistical categories for players in leagues around the world. For every match they assign a player rating. Going by these - admittedly subjective - numbers, Petrov was not only Villa's best player last season, but the 30th best player in the EPL. Further, they have him as the fifth best defensive center midfielder, behind Mikel Arteta, Michael Carrick, Gareth Barry, and Alejandro Faurlin. Not bad company in which to find oneself.
And every now and again, he'd show flashes of just sheer brilliance. Like this one, for instance:
If you want a great memory, look at the one immediately before that too.
The argument could be made that perhaps those aren't the best numbers to use or that maybe the one highlight is biasing me, but I like them. I like them because they put Stiliyan in a good light, and I like them because they're quick and easy. But really, what's the point of worrying about them? The numbers, and the performance aren't the thing anyone will think about with regards to Petrov this past season.
Instead, we'll think about the leukemia. The horrible, awful leukemia that is robbing one of the classiest players in football of the game and occupation he seems to love so much. There were rumors about Stan retiring from football, and then those rumors were denied. It's hard to find much news regarding how his treatment is proceeding, and that's probably for the better. It's a private time for Petrov and his family, and that should be respected.
But the one good thing to come out of this was the unity it created amongst football fans and players. It seemed that everyone wanted to support Petrov. In the first match after the announcement (the day after, in fact), this happened during the 19th minute at Villa Park:
Everyone at Villa Park joined in, even the Chelsea fans. Watching that now, I get chills. That day, even the Chelsea players wore shirts that had "Petrov 19" on the back and "Our Thoughts Are With You" on the front. With Petrov himself in attendance, Villa Park was brimming with solidarity and support for the midfielder. Elsewhere in the EPL, Bolton Wanderers player Martin Petrov lifted his shirt after scoring a goal to reveal a t-shirt that said "Be Strong Stan." The next day saw a repeat of what happened at Villa Park in Glasgow as fans of Petrov's former team Celtic gave him a rousing minute's applause.
I have no idea if or when Petrov will be back in the claret and blue, and really, it doesn't matter. At this point, with regards to Petrov, the only thing that matters is his health. It's hard to say much of consequence beyond that. I guess the only thing left is what this site's banner has said since March 30: Stilian Petrov, we are with you.