The 37-year-old made his country's dreams come true at the final stage of his career before bowing out with utmost grace and class.
There are certain footballers who become icons in their nations. They become something people look forward to and aim to become. There is another kind that absolutely revolutionizes the sport in their home countries. A few examples of such players are Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Gabon, Didier Drogba for the Ivory Coast, and Mohammed Salah from Egypt. Not only do these players become icons, but they also become immortal. They are often respected more than anyone else in their home countries. One such player is North Macedonia’s Goran Pandev. The 37-year-old made his country’s dreams come true at the final stage of his career before bowing out with utmost grace and class.
The 37-year-old retired from international football after playing North Macedonia’s final match in Euro 2020. It was a group stage match between them and the Netherlands. The Dutch dominated the match and won 4-0, knocking North Macedonia out of the tournament.
But the country was not disappointed. Rather, it celebrated every single moment of their being in Europe’s elite international competition. It was this, exactly this dream that Pandev made a reality for the country. The amazing thing was he was not able to do it because he was an exceptionally gifted player like Messi or Ronaldo.
He did it by uniting his team year after year. Even when they had to face disappointment after disappointment with their national side not being able to qualify for the major international tournaments, Goran Pandev acted like a true leader.
He kept his teammates inspired and finally at the end of his career, he accomplished his mission. And that is what makes him much more than a legend in North Macedonia. It makes him something divine to his country’s people.
Despite being from a country with very little footballing history at the international level, Pandev always found himself playing for some of Europe’s top, top clubs. The first European giant he played for was Italian club Lazio. He made 159 appearances for the club and scored a total of 48 goals. Pandev played for them from 2004 to 2009. The 37-year-old left the club due to an ugly contract dispute with the club’s chairman, which led to a legal showdown between the player and the club.
He was then signed by current Serie A champions Inter Milan. The Macedonian joined at one of the golden periods in the club’s history. It was the time when Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho was the head coach. He would go on to win the treble with the club a few years later. Pandev was part of that legendary Inter side. He scored five goals for the club in 47 appearances. Pandev won the Serie A, the Coppa Italia, and the prestigious UEFA Champions League with them.
The 37-year-old left the club in 2012 to join Napoli where he scored 13 goals in 62 appearances. Much of Pandev’s career does seem to be in Italy, but all with the big clubs. His move from Napoli was the first time he would move to a different country.
He signed for Galatasaray in 2014 and played just one season with the Turkish side. It seemed like he could not exactly adjust to the change as he only made four appearances and scored none in that sole season. Pandev then moved back to Italy as he signed with Genoa in 2015.
He is currently still a Genoa player. He has made a whopping 156 appearances for the Italian side and found the back of the net 28 times so far. It is safe to say that his club career has been nothing short of illustrious.
His real test, however, was to take North Macedonia to the finals of a major international competition. Given North Macedonia’s strength in world football, the Euro Cup seemed to be the more suitable option than the Wold Cup. However, it was still difficult.
Europe has a massive number of quality sides and for a team like North Macedonia, it was always going to be difficult. Pandev stuck throughout. He had only one goal and he would work to achieving it no matter how bad the situation may be.
Over a decade after he became a professional, he finally achieved his aim. In doing so, not only did he make his own dreams come true and those of an entire nation. For the rest of his life, and even after, he will be celebrated like a king in his country, and he deserves every bit of it.
In his international career, Pandev has scored 38 goals in 122 appearances. He is the country’s highest-ever goal scorer.
It was only fitting that he led the side onto their first Euro game, and it was also fitting that he got a guard of honor when he was taken off for the last time. For his countrymen, Goran Pandev will be a far greater footballer than a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo.
That is not because of football ability. That is simply because of what the man has done to elevate football in his nation. The best part of it all may probably be the fact that Pandev’s final international goal was also North Macedonia’s first-ever goal in the Euros.