Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has been warned that he may be a squad player rather than a regular starter for the remainder of his Villa Park career.
Petrov is contracted to the claret and blues until the summer of 2013 and Villa manager Gerard Houllier insists he is still an important part of his future plans.
However, the Bulgarian international, who was made skipper by former boss Martin O’Neill, is no longer guaranteed his place in Villa’s starting XI.
The 31-year-old was rested for the 1-1 Premier League draw at Blackpool earlier this month with Houllier’s squad now boasting a multitude of midfield options.
“Petrov is in my plans, but if he says ‘I want to play every game’, I’ll say ‘No’,” said Houllier, who is expected to recall Petrov to the squad for Saturday’s home match against Blackburn Rovers.
“He’s the captain so he must lead by example. I’m very pleased with his attitude. He’s been influential in me changing the philosophy that we have here. He’s still got a lot to give.”
Houllier is a strong advocate of rotating his squad to keep his players fresh and has warned member of the Villa Park dressing room they must remain patient for their chances.
“You can play only 11 players at one time, but it is the squad and the unity of the squad that makes you win, not just 11 players,” he said.
“The players and the fans have to accept now that it is a squad – simple as that. When there’s no competition the teams go down.
“If you don’t accept competition you don’t do this job. A professional player is paid a lot of money to be in competition with his team-mates.
“That’s the difference between football and other professions. There’s only you to do your job, but there are many players to play midfield.”
Houllier is delighted to have so many midfield options having struggled with a lack of personnel between October and December.
Petrov is now competing with Makoun, Bradley, Nigel Reo-Coker, Robert Pires, Barry Bannan, Fabian Delph and Chris Herd for a place.
Villa also have Stephen Ireland and Jonathan Hogg to come back from loans at Newcastle and Portsmouth in the summer, when Moustapha Salifou and Isaiah Osbourne will be released.
“Can you make it clear that at one stage I had no Stiliyan Petrov, no Nigel Reo-Coker who both had long term injuries and no Steve Sidwell, who had an operation?” Houllier told me.
“You couldn’t play midfield and neither could I so I had to take players. I don’t want to be caught out again. I hope everybody understands.”
Houllier re-iterated that Petrov was rested, not dropped, last weekend after a gruelling round trip for Bulgaria’s draw in Estonia.