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The captain announced his decision to retire on Thursday, and his former Celtic team-mate cannot think of anything more apt than a victory to secure their Premier League status

EXCLUSIVE
By Russell Stoddart

Cancer survivor John Hartson believes victory for Aston Villa on Saturday to guarantee their Premier League status will be a fitting tribute to their retiring skipper Stiliyan Petrov.

The West Midlands club know that three points against Europa League finalists Chelsea at Villa Park will mean they cannot be caught by third-bottom Wigan, who they face on the last day of the season.

The Bulgarian, known as Stan to those in the game, announced his retirement from the game on Thursday after being diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2011.

The 33-year-old is in remission from the illness but Hartson, who had chemotherapy after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2009, admits he is not surprised that his former Celtic team-mate has decided to retire.

"Acute leukaemia is a nasty illness and I do feel very sorry for Stan that he has had to make this decision," Hartson told Goal.com.

"Despite being away from the game for a couple of years, the club and the fans have not forgotten him. They applaud an image of him posted on the big screen in the 19th minute of games – his shirt number.

"I'm sure he will be very much in their thoughts on Saturday and I cannot think of anything more fitting for him than the win that will secure their Premier League future.

"As a cancer survivor, I know how hard he has had to fight. There are good days and bad days, and sometimes it is very difficult not to get weighed down by all the negative thoughts.

"I have been in constant touch with Stan. We have spoken every couple of weeks for two years and in a sense I'm thrilled for him now he can put the uncertainty over his career to bed and get on with his life.

"You realise when something as terrible as this happens to you that football is such a small part of your life. Stan has a beautiful wife and fantastic children and they must come first. I would imagine he is financially secure so he can pursue other things in his life.

"I trained every day for four years with Stan at Celtic and my abiding memory of him is coming off the pitch looking like someone had thrown a bucket of water over him. He is someone who puts everything into what he does.

"He can go on to the next stage of his life knowing that he is a legend at Aston Villa, Celtic and in his homeland, and you cannot ask for more than that."

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