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Goran Pandev: North Macedonia’s Most Highly Decorated Footballer

Goran Pandev playing for Galatasaray
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Goran Pandev is perhaps the best-known Macedonian footballer of all time and certainly one of the most highly-decorated and celebrated.

In March 2019, he won his 100th cap for the Macedonian national side. A year later cemented his place in the hearts of his countrymen when he arranged for the shirt he wore that day to be auctioned and the profits donated to a hospital fighting the coronavirus in his home country.

Having played the vast majority of his career in Italy, the 37-year-old forward is now in the twilight of his career but his legacy in the pantheon of Macedonian greats is assured.

Born in 1983 in what was then still known as Yugoslavia, Pandev signed for local club FC Belasica where he progressed through the ranks and stayed three seasons as a senior. He made his debut in the 2000-01 season which turned out to be his only full season in the first team.

Quickly coming to the fore, he was spotted by overseas scouts and in the summer of 2001, he signed for Inter Milan despite only being 18 years old. There began his love affair with Italy and Italian football that has lasted the better part of two decades.

In making his mark as a fast-running second forward, Pandev made an immediate impact as he was loaned out to Inter feeder club, Specia, in Seria C. This gave Pandev an early taste of senior football in Italy, and this was further enhanced when he was loaned to newly promoted Ancona. Despite the side suffering an awful inaugural campaign in Seria A, Pandev was signed by Seria A side, Lazio, in the spring of 2004.

Pandev would play more than 200 games for Lazio over the next five seasons before leaving in acrimony in the summer of 2009 following a long-running contract dispute. It was at this time that his name was linked with a move to the Premier League, with Tottenham being the favourites to sign him at one point.

Eventually, however, Pandev resisted the allure of London and Paris where PSG were also keen but elected to stay in Italy and rejoined Inter now being managed by Jose Mourinho.

His signature was not made official until the January 2010 transfer window and, as stated above, was clouded in a mire of controversy. It was a pity that his time in Rome should be marred by such an ending as he had produced remarkable form with the club.

Although the only tangible club success in this period was the 2008-09 Coppa Italia, Pandev was part of an awesome attacking partnership alongside Tommaso Rocchi and this was sufficient to endure him to the Lazio supporters prior to his move.

Whilst at Inter, Pandev experienced his greatest successes in club football as he played in an integral part in Inter’s treble win of Seria A, Coppa Italia and Champions League. He added the FIFA World Club Cup the following season to sit alongside another Coppa Italia success. In all Pandev made more than 70 appearances for Inter in his relatively short-lived eighteen months at the club.

The next stop in his career trekking was a three-year spell at Napoli and well over another century of appearances were marked by two further Coppa Italia successes. The move to Napoli was initially on a loan basis but was made permanent after a year. A short-lived spell away from Italy then ensued as Pandev elected to join Galatasary in Turkey.

Failing to settle, Pandev was soon on his way back to Italy and this time to Genoa where he has racked up almost 150 more appearances in the past five seasons. His international career for North Macedonia has lasted eighteen years since his debut in 2001 to his most recent cap in 2019. There has been over a century of caps in that time with 34 goals.

A strong running player exactly six-foot-tall, Pandev is naturally left-footed. He has proven to be adaptable on the field and although excelling as a striker, is equally at home deployed as a winger or a second striker playing off the main forward.

He is noted for his selfless work rate on the pitch as well as his altruistic manner and character off it. In March 2009, he was awarded the Macedonian Medal of Honour by the country’s then president in recognition of services to his country. Pandev has also been responsible for the setting up of a football academy back in Macedonia and this has been a success to the degree that the senior side now plays in North Macedonia’s top division.

The record holder for the number of goals scored at national team level, Pandev has also been named Macedonian Footballer of the Year five times.