Aston Villa must hand Stiliyan Petrov a pay-as-you-play player-coach contract this summer

The former Villans captain announced this week he is hoping to make a comeback.

One danger with football fans' opinions on players is that absence can indeed make the heart grow fonder.

For Aston Villa supporters, the news that former captain Stiliyan Petrov is hoping to make a comeback to professional football, ideally with the Birmingham club, after four years out of the game following his leukaemia diagnosis is a source of joy and hope.

That could be attributed to the wistfulness of fans after the worst season in recent memory, but in truth it is a product of a multitude of factors, none more important than the fact that prior to his illness Petrov was both an accomplished central midfielder and a popular man at Villa Park.

His bond with the club's supporters has undoubtedly improved during and since his cancer, and there can surely be few sceptics about his motives for wanting a return to the club - if ever there was a man who wants to make a comeback simply for emotional reasons rather than financial, it'd be Stan.

Stranger things have happened, too. A potential return to B6 may be more attainable for the 36-year-old given the context of this season and the fact that Villa are facing a first campaign outside the top flight in nearly three decades - indeed, that may be part of the reasoning behind Petrov going public with that as his target.

It could not merely be charity, however; Villa are in no position whatsoever to hand out freebies with the financial crunch of relegation to be taken into account, regardless of parachute payments.

The majority of fans are convinced, but it must be a sensible move for both parties. Villa would be fools to offer him a fixed 12-month contract on any significant wage, given the fact he has not played a professional game in over four years.

Having said that, he would be a hugely valuable football man to have at the club, in any capacity. With over 500 competitive games in Britain under his belt and six years as a player at Villa Park, he has knowledge both of the game and the club which could prove vital in the hectic free-for-all nature of the Championship.

He'd be a superb influence on the younger players at the club, as has been confirmed by a number of academy regulars during his stints as a coach since his diagnosis. More than that, Villa are a club in desperate need of figureheads who genuinely care and can see through a fan's eyes, particularly after the shambolic masquerade of leadership offered this season by Gabby Agbonlahor, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and co.

Why not merely re-appoint him in a non-playing capacity, then? Well, because he has more to offer than that.

At Celtic he was a dynamic attacking midfielder, but even during his best years at Villa he was a deep-lying midfielder, focusing on passing and breaking up the opposition play rather than the surging forward force he was at Parkhead.

Were he to be offered a full-time coaching role with a pay-as-you-play clause by Villa - one he would surely accept given his confirmed desire to return to the club - and thus the financial risk be removed, he could be hugely valuable on a bit-part basis in the Championship.

Villa will play 46 league games next year, plus a likely increased number of cup games as they enter at earlier rounds. That will take a huge toll on the club's squad, which is likely to be younger and of a generally lower standard than supporters are used to seeing.

Having Petrov registered as a player and holding the option to utilise him from time to time could be a big advantage for Villa, and such is his style of play that he may not have lost too much from his years out of the game.

His appearances would be few and far between, but that would not matter too much as rotation is one of the names of the game in the Championship anyway, such is the fixture list.

He would only work in a three-man midfield, with other players to do his running for him, but as a captain, a leader, and a metronome in the side it is not too much of a stretch to suggest he could make a difference.

As outlined by former Villa boss Tim Sherwood, he would need to be managed in the right way by someone who knows when to push and when to leave him out, but with Petrov having worked - albeit briefly - as a coach himself he could likely be trusted to make those decisions himself.

Villa need a heartbeat next season to avoid flatlining - as a regular coach and a bit-part player, there is no reason Petrov can't get the club's blood pumping again.

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