Stiliyan Petrov last night announced he is set to make a dramatic return to top level football – and said he would welcome an approach from Celtic.
The Parkhead legend was diagnosed with acute leukaemia four years ago and was forced to hang up his boots as he fought to save his life.
He was given the all-clear by medical experts a year ago and since then has targeted playing professional football again. The 36-year-old has been in full-time training for the past six months and now feels ready to join a club for pre-season.
His first obligation is to Aston Villa, the club he played for when he was diagnosed, but he is open to offers.
Petrov said: “I’m feeling good. I’ve been working very hard on my fitness and doing a lot of training.
“I’m looking forward to a return to football again. I believe I will be able to play again at a high level. I’m really excited.
“If that means there is a chance to play for Celtic again that would be unbelievable.
“I’ve started very slowly since I was told I could play football again. Straight on my mind I had a programme.
“I spoke to a lot of doctors and fitness coaches and everybody looked at it and assessed it and I have received very positive news.
“I’ve been working close to the idea for a year and a half. I’ve managed to come a long way.
“I started gradually with slow runs then I moved to five-a-side and then 11-a-side and half a pitch, then Sunday League.
“I’ve been given permission to train with Aston Villa U21s for the last four months. We’ve done a couple of tests in the last two weeks and my fitness is getting close to when I retired.
“I’m really excited and I understand the odds will be against me. People will be asking a lot of questions and having a lot of doubts but I always believe it you work hard you will get fitter.
“I’m down from 106 kilos to 90 kilos. That’s only four kilos off my playing weight. I’ve a big pre-season of my own before an actual pre-season. I’m really looking forward to it.
”I’ve got it in my mind, even if it doesn’t happen, I’ve tried. It was taken away from me. I’ve worked hard all my life to be a footballer and it was taken away from me. I’ve been given a chance again to do it.
“I’m 36, but players are playing at 38, 39, 40. I’ve looked after myself well and I think I’ve got a good shout.
“I spoke with a lot of fitness coaches a lot of doctors and fitness is how much work you put in. If you put in a lot of work you get fit, if you don’t work you don’t get fit.
“My football ability has always been there. I have trained really hard, I have been working on different technical stuff, to make sure the touch is there and the awareness and the fitness is coming along.
“I have done a bleep test in which I have come only one level below what I used to be so that is really promising, that is the level I played in the Premiership.”
Petrov’s family, wife Paulina and sons, Stiliyan Jnr and Kristiyan, are excited at the news but also have reservations. He said: “My two boys are really excited. Paulina was really doubtful. Obviously after everything we went through together she knew when I was playing how much work I put in to stay fit.
“She was a bit concerned. But the other day she said I am going to make it.
“She’s been watching me train for the last year and a half so I think she’s starting to believe as well now. It will be great for me and my family and for the kids to see me playing again.”