Gareth Barry: My mate Stan is one of the most popular men in football
There's no question retaining the Barclays Premier League title with Manchester City is high on Gareth Barry's to-do list.
But Barry says there'd be "no better feeling" for him than shaking hands with Stiliyan Petrov, playing against him in midfield and giving him a massive hug on the final whistle after a titanic battle.
Barry knows that good mate Petrov's main priority is beating leukaemia once and for all.
But he says that's no reason why he can't dream of a reunion on the pitch in the coming years.
"My heart sank when I heard about Stan's leukaemia diagnosis," said Barry.
"I have known Stan for many years, I know his wife and his two children really well too. I was thinking of them all.
"It was really hard to accept and to take in. I found words hard to come by. When I'd meet up with Stan soon after, it was difficult to find the right things to say.
"But if anyone could beat it, it's Stan because of his incredible strength of character. It's started really well and I'm just praying now that he can take that on, fully recover and have a wonderful life with his fantastic family.
"Stan came over to my house on Wednesday and I went over to his place on Sunday to catch up with him and his family and watch the Newcastle v Villa game on MOTD.
"Every time I see him he's looking better. He looked good on the Wednesday and then even healthier on Sunday. I am hoping he can keep improving.
"It would be great to think we could shake hands on the pitch in the coming years and then have a right good battle in central midfield and then enjoy a big hug after the game.
"Stan isn't silly. He know he needs time to recover and get back to normal. But I also know how much Stan loves football too. And I know what it would mean for him to get back into football and on the pitch.
"There would be no better feeling for me than to have a good battle with him on the football pitch. Stan will take it a day at a time and see what happens."
The friendship of Barry and Petrov developed very early on, soon after the Bulgarian joined Villa in a £6.5m deal in August 2006. Barry had followed Petrov's career from afar in Scotland and been very impressed with his goalscoring heroics in green and white hoops. So he was delighted when Petrov signed on the dotted line. But he says nothing could have prepared him for Petrov's impact - both on and off the pitch.
"I was very excited when Villa signed Stan because his record in Scotland with Celtic was phenomenal. His winning mentality was there for all to see having been so successful north of the border and I was also aware of his incredible goalscoring abilities.
"As soon as he signed, you could tell in training what a great player he was and, in the dressing room, what a fantastic guy he was.
"He was a real team player, always looking out for the lads and he was also one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet.
"On the pitch, he was a fantastic professional. Playing with him was just brilliant, I really enjoyed it and I think we struck up a good partnership with Villa.
"I remember that first game he played at Upton Park really well. In terms of debuts, I don't think you'll see better.
"He settled in straight away and his performance against West Ham was just incredible, absolutely outstanding.
"He's kept that standard up for many, many years now in the Villa shirt and that just shows his consistently impressive form. He's been a fantastic player for Villa.
"He did have a time out of the team in that first season. Any time a player is out of the team you need to be mentally strong and there aren't many better with that than Stan. He has that in abundance.
"I remember him in training during that time. He never let his head drop and just kept plugging away, trying to get back into the team.
"It was only a matter of time before a player of Stan's quality found himself back in the side. It wasn't too long. Once he got back, he's rarely been out of the team again.
"Stan's strength is his composure on the ball, he never seems to panic, always seems to find the right pass. I enjoyed playing alongside him.
"I think we're similar players in that respect. We like the ball at our feet and play the same sort of passes. We bounced off each other and it was great to play with him.
"As a player he's brilliant. As a person he's exemplary. You speak to anyone in the game and it doesn't matter if you've met him once or a hundred times, people say great things about him. He is one of the most popular men in football, no doubt about it!
"He is so friendly, such a nice guy. He's got good banter in the dressing room but equally he knows when it's time to be serious and professional. You will only hear good stuff said about Stan.
"He's got a great mix in his character. He knows when it's time to have a laugh and a joke and his banter is excellent and appreciated in the dressing room. He can be a real joker.
"But when it's time for football, it's time for football. He knows the perfect time for joking, the right time for doing the right thing.
"To have Stan in the dressing room around younger players, he's just the perfect role model."
Naturally, Barry has been following the Pedal for Petrov challenge taken on by Andy Smith and Alex Butler.
The masseurs are biking from Celtic Park to Villa Park, arriving in B6 on Sunday before a tribute dinner for Petrov takes place in the Holte Suite.
Barry put his name down for a table of ten the moment he found out about the black-tie event and can't wait to welcome the lads back.
"I was delighted when I heard Smudge and Big Al were going to make this massive effort. To do this for Stan shows what he means at Bodymoor Heath among the backroom staff.
"To arrange something like this is amazing. I enjoyed the thought of the two of them putting some hard work in to get into shape for the challenge - they know how we feel now!
"It is important for me to be there on Sunday for Stan, obviously. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to be there. I'm really looking forward to it."
Rock band Ocean Colour Scene are set to play their hits at a special fundraising dinner at the end of the challenge.
Lead singer Simon Fowler and drummer Oscar Harrison are performing an acoustic set at the event, which is set to take place in the Holte Suite on Sunday September 9.
There will be a champagne reception and a delicious three-course meal for you to enjoy at the dinner, as well as a raffle and auction.
All proceeds raised will be donated to Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
The price of a table of ten is £600 including VAT while individual seats are £60 including VAT per person.
To reserve your places please contact Rebecca Starkey by email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 612 0960 (option two).
Alex and Andy have already raised over £40,000 through their Just Giving page and they have also set up a text message donation service.
Text Stan91, followed by the amount you wish to donate, to 70070.
You can also make a donation by visiting the Just Giving page - click here.
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