Goran Pandev: The Hero Of North Macedonia

Goran Pandev’s dream has finally come true. On June 13th, he led the North Macedonian national team to their major tournament debut: Euro 2020. The debut went almost perfectly for Pandev. He scored the national team’s first goal in an official competition, a deserved reward for his long service to the country. Unfortunately, at the end of the match, Igor Angelovski’s team had to admit Austria’s 3-1 advantage.

The debut would have been even sweeter if North Macedonia had won. However, not being able to get the three points is not a big deal. More importantly, being able to reach the qualification group of the Euro 2020 is already considered as trophy in itself for this country. The success of North Macedonia cannot be separated from the figure of Goran Pandev. The 37-year-old striker scored the only goal in the play-off final against Georgia. He is the most senior figure in the North Macedonia squad and captain of the team since 2016.

Pandev has served in the North Macedonia national team for 20 years. He made his official debut in June 2001 in a match against Turkey. Young Pandev faced Hakan Sukur to Tugay Kerimoglu in that match. Pandev’s first international goal was scored in August 2002 when North Macedonia hosted Malta. Since then, the striker has scored 38 goals in 120 appearances for the national team.

Pandev’s football gait makes this country with a population of about two million people proud. He’s not just a legend on the pitch. Off the pitch too, the former Lazio striker contributed to the progress of North Macedonian football. He is appreciated as a figure as well as an idol of the younger generation. Pandev’s success contributed to the popularization of football in this country. In 2016, he was awarded a medal of honor by the President of North Macedonia for achievements in the field of sport.

The wealth he got from overseas was also used for the advancement of football. In 2010, in Strumica, his hometown, the former Inter Milan striker founded a football academy called Akademija Pandev. The academy then formed a senior team that won promotion to the top division of the Macedonian League in 2017. His younger brother, Sashko Pandev, also strengthened the senior team.

“What Macedonia invested in Pandev, now he is returning to Macedonia. Everyone knows what he’s doing here. He is an icon,” said Dragi Knatlarovski, the former North Macedonia coach who gave Pandev his international debut. Born in Strumica, a town about 130km southeast of the capital Skopje, Pandev has been playing for local clubs as a teenager. He started his career at the city’s biggest club, FK Belasica. In 2001, just a year after making his senior team debut, he was signed by Italian giants Inter Milan.

However, he did not get a chance to appear for the Nerazzuri in that first period. Pandev was loaned twice to Spezia and Ancona. Later, he moved to Lazio as part of Dejan Stankovic’s transfer to Inter. Pandev’s career took off in Rome. Under the tutelage of Delio Rossi, the North Macedonian striker formed a deadly duo with Tommaso Rocchi. Both contributed 116 Serie A goals for Lazio in 2004-2009.

Unfortunately, Pandev’s contract with Aquilotti had to end due to a dispute with the club president. His contract at the Olimpico was prematurely terminated in December 2009. Inter Milan, who was coached by Jose Mourinho at that time, did not waste time to hook Pandev. He returned to the Giuseppe Meazza in January 2010. He was instrumental in La Beneamata’s success in winning the treble at the end of the season.

Until the 2020/21 season with Genoa, Pandev has made 473 appearances and 101 goals in Serie A. Only two foreign players have surpassed him in terms of appearances, namely Samir Handanovic and Javier Zanetti. He deserves to be an icon of modern Serie A.

“I didn’t expect to be able to make such an impact and play so many games in one of Europe’s best leagues. I am very happy with what I achieved in Italy, especially because before people didn’t even know where Macedonia was, and now they talk about us with respect,” Pandev said in an interview with Macedonian Football. Goran Pandev is, without a doubt, the best footballer that North Macedonia has been born with so far. Defending the national team in a major tournament was his desire since long ago, when he was young and his country was not a significant football power.

Having “retired” because he was disappointed with FFM (North Macedonia’s Football Association), Pandev wanted to return to defend the national team after being persuaded by Igor Angelovski, his current coach. Angelovski again discouraged Pandev from retiring in 2015. The decision proved to be the right one because the player is in fact still an important figure on the field. And North Macedonia finally got the much-anticipated tournament participation.

Talking about retirement, Pandev has long revealed that Euro 2020 could be his last match with the national team. Various parties want him to last until 2022, but the deal made with the family. Pandev also admitted that he wanted to switch roles: from being a key player to being a loyal supporter. “This Macedonian national team has perspective, has a generation that will bring greater joy to Macedonian fans. And I will be their biggest fan,” Pandev concluded.

ASL

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