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I don't want sympathy, I want to earn a manager's job says Stiliyan Petrov

 

By Laure James

Stiliyan Petrov has taken a seat in a chair in a Belfast hotel lobby positioned at perhaps an unnatural angle to have a conversation. The former Bulgaria midfielder, who learned English working in a Glaswegian burger van, has been discussing his career, the careers of others, and so forth, with engaging lucidity.

As he begins to share details of how he sees his future evolving, however, he shifts, rounds his shoulders and leans forward. He is an accomplished storyteller, yet what may lie ahead seems to have caught his imagination.

The ex-Celtic and Aston Villa hero battled, and defeated, leukaemia in 2012, yet the condition called a premature end to his playing career and he announced his retirement the following year. He returned to play for Villa during pre-season last summer, yet the offer of a contract failed to materialise.

Wide-eyed with enthusiasm at times, with the corners of his mouth upturned, and studying toward his Uefa B Licence with the Irish FA, it is pleasingly difficult to reconcile this with the distressing years of ill health - barring, perhaps, the everlasting sense of determination.

"It's been a few fascinating days," Petrov said.

"We were not honestly sure what to expect at the start, and the little panic buttons were being pressed before we started, but we have really enjoyed it and the IFA run an excellent course.

"We have been asked what we would like to become, whether it's a coach or a manager, and I think I see myself more as a manager.

"I think I am a very strongly opinionated man and I know the way I see football, I don't think I could work as a number two. There's nothing wrong with that, but I am working to become a manager.

"In saying that, you have to take it step by step and learn from scratch to work your way to the top."

Villa offered Petrov the chance to coach, rather than continue to play, but it felt too much like a sympathy vote to accept.

"(Villa) changed manager four times or so and every single one asked me to be involved in some way," he said.

"Each have asked me to join them in some potential role at the club but I don't think the time is right for me. I think I will be working at the club at some point but I don't think I am ready yet. I don't want to start something I may not finish, or may struggle to do.

"I'll be back one day but I am not at that step yet.

"I want to deserve any position I have and to work up from the bottom. Sometimes you think people try to show sympathy because obviously of what happened with me and they just want to get you involved.

"I want to earn that, I don't just want to be given it."

A former Villain alongside Aaron Hughes and Steven Davis - a pair he describes as "total gentlemen" - Petrov is also close friends with Maik Taylor.

"We used to play in a Sunday League team called Wychall Wanderers in Solihull and we won a cup and league together," said Petrov, who will appear alongside John Hartson at an Experience Epic event in Belfast in October.

"When Northern Ireland play New Zealand next week I'm planning to meet Maik for a coffee, but I might have to research places while I am in Belfast because the last time I asked him to recommend a bar, we went there and it was closed and covered in scaffolding!"

Maik Taylor's favourite Belfast bar, it turns out, is Cafe Vaudeville, currently undergoing a refurb.

Celtic hero Petrov has also backed the Bhoys for the treble - but wants to see Rangers at peak performance next season.

The former Hoops midfielder believes Brendan Rodgers can guide them to victory against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final on Saturday, yet would love to see a Glasgow rivalry strong enough to challenge Celtic's hopes of a record 10 consecutive Scottish Premiership titles.

"Brendan has done an incredible job," Petrov said. "Obviously when he joined he said he would bring the glory days back to Celtic and get the stadium full again, and he's done that. He made promises which he delivered on and he's done it in style.

"He has a very important game now to bring the treble back and I hope he does that, because I think they deserve it."

Petrov moved to Parkhead in 1999 from CSKA Sofia and emerged as a cult hero in his eight years with Celtic, lifting the league championship on four occasions, yet is desperate for Hoops fans to bring back those old atmospheres again.

"I want to see Rangers get better because I want to see an 'old' Old Firm," he added. "If they are not strong competition, that game will have lost its intensity. They need each other, they need each other to compete, Scottish football would not thrive without that.

"As for the 10th title, there's a long way to go, people talk a lot in advance and yes, we would be happy if that happened but it's far away. I think Rangers will get stronger and stronger. They have been well behind this season but for next season they will become stronger and more competitive."

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