Petrov’s fight can inspire Villa to reach League Cup final
Professional football is a harsh, unforgiving place. The beautiful game tolerates some ugly people. Yet, principally, it is driven by positivity. That’s why many neutrals will look beyond an understandable affinity with the underdog tonight, and wish Aston Villa well in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final at Bradford.
Though driven by pragmatism as much as principle, Villa’s determination to pursue Paul Lambert’s youth project is admirable. Reaching a major final would have a reassuring effect on a club that is not always comfortable in its own skin. This has been a difficult season that has tested fans’ faith to destruction.
Yet throughout it all, there has been a sense of perspective. It is felt in the 19th minute of every home game, when Villa Park echoes to concerted applause for club captain Stiliyan Petrov, who has not played since March, when he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. The prospect of him leading out Villa at Wembley, should they reach the final on 24 February, is a unifying force.
Petrov, who is now in remission and attends matches at Villa Park, remains a pivotal figure. His challenge is so fundamental it cuts through the cynicism of his trade. As goalkeeper Shay Given said: “Stan is still going through some difficult treatments. One day he is up, one day he is down. To see him fighting is really inspirational. It puts everything in perspective.”
Some might see such comments as trite. But sport is driven by extremes of emotion, and affinity with the qualities represented by certain individuals. Athletes may be inherently selfish, but they are often inspired by something they regard as bigger than themselves.
The victorious European Ryder Cup team, who were driven by memories of, and respect for, Seve Ballesteros, are a case in point. Sir Alex Ferguson insists his players have a reverence for tradition and awareness of the sacrifices made by their predecessors. Liverpool are another major football club in which the bonds of brotherhood are tied tight.
The irony is that Villa need a player of Petrov’s class and experience to give themselves wriggle room until the end of the season. They should have enough to beat Bradford, whose cup run appears to have impinged on their League Two promotion bid. But should Villa be obliged to dig deep, they need only to remind themselves that Stan’s the Man.
Follow Life’s a Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesaPitch
Watch Aston Villa live on BT Vision:
Bradford v Aston Villa, 7.30pm, 8 January, Sky Sports 1 (Capital One Cup semi-final, first leg)
West Brom v Aston Villa, 4.30pm, 19 January, ESPN
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it