Stiliyan Petrov eyeing playing return at Aston Villa after leukaemia battle

Former Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has said he wants to return to professional football with the club.

Petrov, whose career was cut short as he battled acute leukaemia, is in training to come out of retirement ahead of next season.

The midfielder was diagnosed in 2012 while still playing for Villa and was forced to retire a year later despite being in remission.

Petrov said he has been embarking on a secret fitness plan for 18 months as he looks to return to playing and has been training with Villa's under-21 squad this year.

"I have decided to start trying to play football at a higher level again," he said in the Birmingham Mail. "I am very excited.

"People will be asking a lot of questions, and will have a lot of doubts.

"I always believe that if you work hard, you will get fitter. My fitness is getting close to when I retired, so let's see where we go. Aston Villa remains my priority."

Ex-Celtic star Petrov made 219 appearances for Villa, scoring 12 goals, after moving from Scotland from 2006.

Villa will be in the Championship next season after being relegated from the Premier League, the first time they have dropped out of the top flight since 1987.