Football: Villa captain Petrov, whose leukaemia is in submission, retires at 33

LONDON (AFP) - Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is battling acute leukaemia, announced on Thursday he was retiring from football.

The 33-year-old Bulgaria international was diagnosed with the illness in March last year, forcing him to abruptly suspend his playing career.

In a statement released by Aston Villa, he said: "It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the game."

The midfielder, who is continuing to receive treatment, joined Villa from Celtic in 2006.

A popular figure at Villa, fans have acknowledged his plight by applauding throughout the 19th minute of games - in reference to his squad number.

He now plans to set up a foundation to raise money to address issues around the diagnosis of leukaemia.

Referring to the moment last March when he fell ill, he said: "Then something crazy happened, something I thought was just a cold but turned out to be something more serious, something life-changing.

"I played 90 minutes for Villa against Arsenal at The Emirates and I felt fatigued, not myself at all.

"But I thought it was nothing serious. The diagnosis... was a complete shock.

"Around 7,600 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with leukaemia and about 2,300 people with acute leukaemia.

"Fortunately, I was able to make decisions very quickly and I started my treatment quickly. I needed to."

He said his leukaemia was now in remission after finishing a course of high-intensity treatment.

"From now on I'll be on the softer treatment, which is two years on tablets. I feel lucky. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been."