Blog: Petrov's journey from Nutty Professor to Captain Marvel
9th May 2013
"You wish you still had him. He has been a loss. There's no two ways about it. I have said it from day one, this club has been hurt without realising it. To take him out of this team has been a major blow."
Lambert would desperately have loved the skipper's passing panache, drive, determination, leadership and all-round football quality in his team this term.
There's no question his zeal would have dragged the young, emerging side through some difficult stages this term.
Isn't it interesting that Lambert - now talking about the captain's exit from British football - should have been there at the entrance to it also.
But what's most striking is the change in opinion of the boss from seeing Petrov train in those early days at Celtic to now as he departs Villa.
"The first day I saw him train at Celtic I thought "What have we signed?"
"He was hitting shots from about 80 yards.
"He looked like the Nutty Professor. He was huge. I still joke with him now that when he first came, he was so overweight and out of condition.
"He was all over the place if I'm being honest. He was dreadful.
"Then he lost about nine stone and became a footballer.
"Then he became brilliant for Celtic. Once he found his feet he became fantastic.
"He never knew one word of English when he joined. But he was only 19 and coming over from Bulgaria into a team of more experienced international players.
"He played right-back in some games and was like a fish out of water.
"Then Martin came and he started playing in midfield. He came on and was absolutely terrific for us."
It's clear to see that when Petrov joined Celtic, Lambert was seriously worried the Hoops had signed a dud.
But by the time he left Celtic to join Villa some seven years later, he had no doubts Petrov would star in the Barclays Premier League.
Lambert had seen Petrov knit midfield and attack beautifully and score some spectacular goals during his seven-year spell in Scotland.
But, more importantly, Lambert had seen the desire of Petrov to succeed and the team spirit he epitomised.
In that central zone, alongside Petrov, Lambert felt he was in the presence of a winner.
"He was playing when Celtic were really strong and Scottish football was really strong.
"We had that run in the UEFA Cup when we turned over Liverpool and Blackburn.
"He was at a club in Celtic where everyday life was huge.
"We had big players - Larsson, Sutton, Thompson, Lennon - fabulous players and the older ones helped him through it.
"I knew he would handle it down here in England and he wouldn't be fazed by it.
"I think he has been an absolutely fabulous footballer.
"He was someone you could lay your hat on when you were together on the pitch.
"Playing beside him - with Lenny - we always looked after each other.
"But he's someone I knew always had my back on the pitch and vice-versa."
People from across the world have been queuing up to pay tribute to Stan today, on the sad arrival of his retirement news.
Of course, the claret and blue fans have been unbelievable in their passion for Petrov, clapping ferociously for Stan since news of his illness broke in the media in March 2012.
Lambert has been awestruck by that - as well as the applause coming from other dugouts, most recently when Paolo Di Canio was seen passionately hailing the Villa skipper from the sidelines.
He isn't surprised at the depth of feeling aimed at Petrov because anyone who knows him, has been around him or just seen him in interviews can tell instantly that here is a man with a warm-natured glow.
"He is a great friend, a really kind-hearted guy. He's got a heart of gold - sometimes he's too kind for his own good.
"But the rapport he had with the fans - even before my time - has been big.
"But when someone has an illness, regardless of whether they're in the public eye or not I always say 'your health is your wealth'. That's regardless of who you are.
"He was captain of this football club and it's been a tremendous thing the tributes during games.
"What I have noticed is it's both sets of supporters who do it as well as the dugouts too. That's a terrific gesture."
Of course, the whole world has applauded Petrov today via social media.
Vincent Kompany, for one, has come out on Twitter to praise the playing qualities and leadership skills of the skipper and also wish him every success in his future projects.
We have one last chance on home soil to thank him for his magnificent contributions to the claret and blue cause and that's Saturday against Chelsea.
But don't for one minute think that will be the end of Petrov's association with Villa.
Lambert says "the doors will always be open to him."
"When I found out he had leukaemia, it was devastation but thankfully he's okay now.
"I think retiring is only a blip on what he's been through. I don't think this is anything for him because his life was at stake. Thankfully he is starting to get better.
"He will always have a place here. I was with him the other week and he was doing great. I am sure the doors will always be open for him."
That's a lovely thought for all of us going-forward.
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