CELTIC Football Club has expressed shock and devastation at the news that former favourite Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia at the age of 32.
One of the Glasgow club’s most popular players of modern times, the Bulgarian internationalist and Aston Villa captain was tested after developing a fever during a match a week ago.
Experts said an early diagnosis could be crucial for a recovery as the midfield player who made 312 appearances for Celtic, scoring 65 goals, prepares to undergo treatment. His treatment is understood to be due to start in London on Monday.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon told his followers on Twitter that he was “absolutely inconsolable” after the news was broken to him.
In a club statement, he added: “We are all absolutely devastated to hear this news. As a member of the Celtic family, it is important for Stiliyan to know that he has our unequivocal support in battling against this disease.
“Knowing Stiliyan as I do, and the many obstacles he has overcome in his life to get to the peak of his career, he will overcome this one too. On behalf of the players and the backroom staff we send our support and best wishes to Stiliyan, Paulina and the family.”
Petrov started his Celtic career after being bought by the club during the ill-fated John Barnes regime, but became one of the key players in the hugely successful side under Martin O’Neill.
He is fêted by the fans for his starring role in the side that reached the UEFA Cup final in Seville in 2003.
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said: “This is terrible news, and our support and prayers go to Stiliyan, Paulina and their family at this very difficult time.
“Stiliyan was an exceptional player for Celtic and helped to bring incredible success here during the seven years he spent at the club. He was also one of the most popular players here, not only within the club but with all our supporters.”
Petrov, who has more than 100 caps for his country, rejoined O’Neill when he took over at Aston Villa in 2006, and he signed a new four-year contract with the Birmingham club in 2009.
A statement from the club said: “We expect to learn more about Stiliyan’s situation in due course, and we have moved quickly to support him and his family.
“During this time we ask that Stiliyan’s privacy is placed ahead of all inquiries and trust that we will share information as we receive it. Stiliyan is cherished by many, and he will get from Villa every ounce of love and support that we have to help bring this to a positive conclusion.”