Stiliyan Petrov is starting to feel like that hangover that just won't go away, that persistent throbbing in your temple left over from the Martin O'Neil Era. Signed by MON in 2006, the Bulgarian is now 32 years old and showing his age. It's time for Alex McLeish to take a stand and give the Aston Villa captain a much more peripheral role.
Petrov has worn the armband since the start of the 2009-2010 season, after Gareth Barry headed off to Manchester City. I won't pretend to know the politics that goes into the captaincy of English football teams. It seems sometimes managers want to make a statement with that scrap of fabric, such as when Gerard Houllier refused to let Richard Dunne captain in Petrov's absence, and let Ashley Young take charge in an attempt to keep him at the club. I can't reliably comment on Stiliyan's leadership in the clubhouse. I don't know if he's able to inspire the others or to cool tensions. What I do know is, captain or no captain, Villa have reached a point where his playing time needs to be reduced. Significantly.
Notice anything? If you've watched Petrov much at all, you don't need this chalkboard to tell you, you can see it with your own eyes -- the man can't pass forward. In fact, he practically refuses to do so. He'll go sideways. He'll send the ball backward. But more than a foot forward and everything goes wrong. At Fulham during the last fifteen minutes, when Villa were doing their best to press forward and find a goal, Petrov made three forward passes, two of which were successful, one of which was barely forward.
Now, Cappy was not the only player on the pitch having a few issues. We can rant about Emile Heskey as well, and trust me, we shall get there. The thing about Petrov, however, is that he doesn't need to be used. Remember that lovely central midfielder Houllier brought in last season? I think his name is Jean Makoun? Where was he on Saturday?
I can tell you where he was for Villa's last match against Fulham: making forward passes. Perhaps not completing them, perhaps not always making them, but for the most part, when the ball is anywhere in the upper two-thirds of the pitch, Makoun is getting it forward:
Perhaps Makoun has had a poor offseason. Perhaps him and McLeish are simply not gelling together, or he doesn't fit in the Scot's vision for the club. But Villa have a strong core of young central midfielders, attacking, defensive, playmaking. They've got solid experience in Makoun. It's time to loosen the hold on Petrov. Let him rest a bit, alternate, find out what others can do, depending on the formation and the tactics. But playing Petrov for 90 minutes just lessens any possibility of points.