STILIYAN Petrov, Aston Villa's Bulgarian international, has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
He began his first course of intensive treatment last night and is now determined to win the most difficult battle of his illustrious career.
Mr Petrov (32) discovered the devastating results of blood tests yesterday and was immediately sent to London with the club's doctor to begin his recovery process.
He had complained of a fever following last weekend's defeat against Arsenal at the Emirates and after a first set of tests left Villa's medical staff still concerned, he underwent a bone-marrow scan on Thursday.
He received a phone call at midday yesterday confirming his worst fears.
Martin O'Neill, the Sunderland manager and Mr Petrov's mentor during his career at Celtic and Villa Park, was one of the first to be notified of the player's condition and has vowed to do all he can to support his former captain.
He spent several minutes on the telephone shortly after Mr Petrov had received the diagnosis and has recommended the specialist who treated his wife, Geraldine, when she was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004.
Concerns about Mr Petrov's health arose in the aftermath of Villa's loss to Arsenal when manager Alex McLeish spoke with his captain at half-time and suggested he should be substituted because he was not his normal self and Mr Petrov insisted on going back out for the second half of the game. (© Daily Telegraph, London)