In his book ‘You Can Call Me Stan’, written in 2005, Stiliyan Petrov is pretty clear on his views about entering football management when his playing days are over. Not for him the verbal abuse, long nights or never-ending pressure; his Celtic manager Martin O’Neill is, he says, “the kind of guy that makes you want to become a manager, but I am not really sure if I am cut out to be one ... there’s a lot to think about ... maybe in about 10 years I will have changed my mind”.

Anyone who has followed Petrov’s story closely will know what happened next. He left Celtic in 2006 to be reunited with O’Neill at Aston Villa; six years later the Bulgarian developed leukaemia and – despite being in remission within five months – it took five years to return to a normal life. He found himself pondering his options. In 2015, he started his Pro Licence with a view to a job in coaching; last year he took the next step by graduating from UEFA’s Executive Master for International Players (MIP) programme, a course aimed at giving former players a second career. That second career? Yes, Petrov now has his sights on becoming a manager.


“As every other player, I was the same,” says the 40-year-old. “We were young, we were naive, and you don’t know what to expect in the future. I always believed that I could be a kind of a coach, I like to work with people, I like to communicate. For me, it was not a certain ‘no’.

“But if you were to tell me when I was 20 years old that I would do a Masters degree in sport management then I would have laughed at you and said ‘no chance’. What we forget, as players, is that after football, our life is even longer. If we’ve played football for 20 years we still have another 30 to 40 years to live.”

“So if I asked a person, how much money will you need to earn to survive for these 30 or 40 years, not many players will say ‘enough’ so a lot of players, while they are playing – and I’m saying it because I didn’t do it – you have to educate yourself. You have to prepare for your second career. If you think that because you have £5million or £10m, that is going to be enough for you then I will tell you ‘no’ and I’ll tell you why it’s ‘no’, because you have a different standard of life.”

In a world obsessed with what footballers are paid, it is a fascinating observation. And it is also a reality often overlooked when earnings are discussed. Standard of living improves for all of us relative to salary; a career as a footballer is precarious and short-term. For Petrov, MIP provided him with a gateway to a second career.

Nevertheless, he held initial reservations about the prospect of “returning to school”. They melted away soon enough because Petrov, whose fellow pupils included former Liverpool attacker Luis Garcia, Arsenal invincible Gilberto Silva and ex-Middlesbrough midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, says the course gave him a window into a world he thought he knew but in reality had no conception of.


“When I looked at it and saw what it was offering, understanding football from the other side – because being a footballer, you understand what is required on the pitch – on the other side it is about structuring (federation, club and business) and making sure the club is run in the right way. We as players think we know, but what I found out is that I didn’t know much. For me, it was an incredible experience and I jumped in.

“It was a big challenge, I had to involve a tutor – an English teacher – to help me understand some of the words because written, business language and spoken language are completely different. At the end, I was very satisfied with what I learned, what the MIP gave me, the educational knowledge from that course. You learn very valuable lessons, it’s not the big words, sometimes the smaller words can guide you in a different direction.”

Since graduating, he has applied for three jobs at Aston Villa without success.

He knows there are no guarantees but he is a firm advocate of clubs keeping their appointments in the family. He cites Borussia Dortmund as the prime example of an organisation that employs best practice, where Michael Zorc, Sebastian Kehl and Lars Ricken, legendary former players, all hold positions of significance in the hierarchy. Petrov thinks others would do well to mimic the policy.

It prompts the obvious question of a man who spent the best of his career at just two: if not Villa then how about Celtic? Could he see himself in the seat once occupied by O’Neill in the future?

“As every ex-player [does],” he said. “As somebody who played for Celtic, or any big club, if somebody came and said ‘one day would you like to manage [them]?’ of course [I would]. It is one of the best things that you can do. It shows you how good you are as a manager, what you have achieved and you have been appreciated to do the right job.

“But, at the moment they have a very good man as manager, my ex-team-mate who is doing a great job. It’s his second spell, but in the future, who knows? If you ask Neil Lennon if he would like to be Man United manager or Chelsea manager, of course he is going to say ‘yes’. He won’t say ‘no’.

“Sometimes we try to make people happy with what we say or don’t say but if you don’t have ambition, you should be aiming to reach these ambitions. If you want to be a manager at Celtic then you work towards that. Is it going to happen? Who knows? Maybe not, maybe yes.”

Now on its third intake, some of MIP’s early success stories include Eric Abidal, the sporting director at Barcelona, former Brazil midfielder Rai, who holds a similar post at Sao Paolo, and Simon Rolfes at Bayer Leverkusen.


Petrov hopes to follow their lead but will also draw inspiration from two old-school figures from closer to home – the aforementioned O’Neill and Gordon Strachan.

O’Neill took Petrov aside in his earliest days at Celtic in the summer of 2000 to ask him which position he wanted to play. His first season had been a nightmare, he had even packed his bags and booked flights to return home before a last-minute change of heart inside Glasgow Airport. Any lingering doubts were removed after his first conversation with the Irishman.

“Martin O’Neill was the one that I have really learned a lot from – how to keep things simple, how to manage people, how to communicate with people, with what is important in football,” says Petrov. “Gordon Strachan is another one, he is a man who had things down to every single detail. When you balance these two things and take the best of it, maybe you are going to come out with something unique that you can use to further your career – or my career.”

“Not long ago I did a presentation on management and what is more important – man management or on-the-pitch management. I asked a manager – I won’t mention his name – would you rather be a good man manager or the manager that can put on the best sessions on the training pitch? Obviously, I knew the answer. My answer is the same I would rather be a better man manager than anything else and some managers do complicate it.”

If Petrov plans to keep things simple as a manager, he still needs that opportunity. There can’t be many better candidates than the affable Bulgarian; he has, after all, more than 500 club appearances, 106 international caps, 10 medals, a Pro Licence and a Masters in sports administration behind him.

“Not everything that you believe in will happen but you have to believe that you are going to get into a job some way, you have to keep tracking it, and aim to reach it,” he concludes.

You suspect it’s a matter of when, not if, Petrov gets that chance.

The MIP programme equips top international players with the tools required to transfer their playing strengths into effective management skills that will also benefit football. Graduates of the UEFA MIP receive a master of advanced studies delivered by the CDES at the University of Limoges, France, in collaboration with the Birkbeck College at the University of London.