Posted on Friday, 6th April 2012 by lordofthewing
There has been a fair number of players that have played for Celtic and made massive contributions to the team but are not seen as legends in their own right or not given the praise they deserve.
It’s remarkable to think that a player who stayed 7 years at the club (an age in the Bosman World), started 288 times, made 23 sub appearances and scored 64 goals would be forgotten and not as loved as he should.
But like most of Martin O’Neill’s Celtic he had a certain Swede who filled up memory banks quicker than George Lucus re-masters Star Wars.
When Stilliyan Petrov signed in July 1999 for a then Bulgarian export record breaking £2m very few would have believed after witnessing his first season that he would go on to be such an influential player.
He made his debut at Tannadice, which saw John Barnes lose his unbeaten record as Celtic manager. Though he won a League Cup medal that season is remembered mainly for poor performances from a player that looked unfit and unsure of his role in the team.
Petrov in his book: “You can call me Stan” paints a desolate picture of a young footballer in a strange country. We all sometimes feel that since the players are getting well paid they are not susceptible to the trivialities of everyday life. His plight was not helped by a manager playing him out of position.
It’s a triumph for the players strength of character that he wasn’t lost to the game altogether during that time. He was willing to work in a friends burger van to learn English. Would Mario Balotelli do that?
Coupled with Martin O’Neill’s man management genius the player grew into an influential and integral part of that era. He was the ultimate thoroughbred midfielder. He loved to clear fences gracefully and with style but if the race needed to be won with him clattering through the final fence he would do that. His timing was sponsored by Accurist, his prowess in the air was extraordinary for a midfielder and his ingenuity was pure Hristo Stoichkov.
Petrov was lost towards the end of the Treble season in 2000/01 due to a leg break at St Johnstone in March 2001. When he returned he wouldn’t be stopped.
One of the biggest compliments that you can pay to his importance to that team was that as Neil Lennon and – more so – Paul Lamberts powers receded it wasn’t felt as much as it would have been if Petrov hadn’t been there.
From his first goal against Dundee in a 6-2 win against Dundee to his last to his last against St Mirren in a 2-0 victory Petrov scored many an important and memorable goal. 5 times he found the net against R*ngers (three with the head), he scored against Stuttgart in the 2003 UEFA Cup and he scored the last goal in the 2004 Scottish Cup Final.
The goal for me which encompasses all that was good about Stan was one a Rugby Park in 2004 that saw us clinch the league title. His reading of Larsson’s flick, his pace, power and strength to get in before the Kilmarnock defender and a finish so deft that it had made in Eastern Europe stamped all over it.
Gordon Strachan took over in the summer of 2005. This saw Petrov win the last of his 4 League Titles and though he signed a contract extension in January 2006 his detached celebration of that title was the sign that he wasn’t happy. The team that he had grew up with were leaving or being chased out the club. In typical Celtic style the transfer was dragged out with Petrov not leaving until August 2006 for £6.5m.
Stilliyan Petrov won 4 League Titles, 3 Scottish Cups, 3 League Cups and was a UEFA Cup runner up in 2003. He was the SPL’s Young Player Of The Year in 2001.
It goes without saying that we wish him well in the biggest battle he will ever face in his life.
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