Goran Pandev- Who is North Macedonia’s All Time Great?
Zlatan Ibrahimović, Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo are just a handful of Serie A superstars still going strong well into their late 30’s- Zlatan recently signing an extension that will keep him playing for A.C Milan aged 40. For a range of factors, it has been a common trend that elite players have continued to strive in their latter years in Italy, Particularly forwards. One such player is Goran Pandev. The North Macedonian has had a quietly solid career turning out for Mourinho’s treble winning Inter Milan side in addition to playing his part in some talented and competitive Napoli and Lazio squads. Hailing from the small nation of North Macedonia ( it’s current official title) a country with a population of just 2 million and a reputation for little sporting pedigree, Pandev may be on course to leading his country to a first ever World Cup appearance, backed up by a recent historic 2-1 away win to 2014 champions Germany. In addition to this , on the domestic front Pandev is still contributing for a Genoa team striving for a safe mid table finish in Serie A.
Who is Goran Pandev?
Throughout his career Pandev has been deployed in a range of positions including on the wing and as a second striker ( which is where he has played most recently at Genoa), arguably he is at his best as an attacking midfielder due to his creative prowess. Possessing a thunderous left foot Pandev has scored just shy of 143 goals in his career to date and also boasts more than 70 career assists. The 2009/10 Champions league and Serie A champion has turned out for some of Italy’s biggest sides such as Lazio, Inter and Napoli, as well as having a brief spell turning out for Galatasaray in 2014-15. Pandev is widely considered to be North Macedonia’s best ever player and is easily the most decorated. Pandev is the most capped Macedonian player of all time as well as being the nation’s all time top scorer with 37 goals. Pandev scored the goal that sent Macedonia to their first ever European championship this summer and will be vital if North Macedonia are to seriously push for qualification to a first ever world cup appearance.
Pandev shined instantly when he began in his career in his homeland, playing for Belascia as a teenager before Inter Milan had seen enough to sign Pandev just as he turned 18. Having joined a side still boasting Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba, Pandev was sent out on a series of loan moves across Italy, first with then 3rd tier side Spezia and with Serie A strugglers Ancona who could only muster 13 points in their only topflight campaign prior to liquidation. Mid way through his spell at Ancona Pandev was signed by Lazio as part of a deal that saw Serbia legend Dejan Stankovic move to Inter Milan. It was at Lazio where Pandev’s career really got started. Pandev spent 5 years with Lazio where he was the coppa Italia’s top scorer as the Rome side won the contest in 2008-9. Pandev’s best season at the Stadio Olimpico came in 2007-2008, a year before his departure, where he scored a career best 19 goals in all competitions. It was a dire season for Lazio with the club finishing 12th and the season being marred with issues off the pitch.Nevertheless, Pandev was a consistent performer in Serie A and impressed in the champions league group stage, scoring against Real Madrid home and away. Following contract disputes with the Lazio hierarchy Pandev signed a 4 year deal with Inter in the 2010 winter transfer window.
In 2009-10 Inter Milan had a historic season wining a treble under Mourinho, with Pandev coming in and making some crucial contributions in the second half of Inter’s season, including a sublime free kick against rivals A.C. Milan in a 2-0 win. Pandev almost played the full 90 when Inter defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions league final. The following season under Rafa Benítez Pandev had another string of clutch displays, scoring in a 3-2 win over Bayern in the last 16 of the 2010=11 Champion’s league, scoring in the 2010 Supercoppa Italiana win over Roma, assisting the winner in the 2011 coppa Italia and also scoring in the 2010 Club world cup final.
The next season Pandev moved to Napoli on loan, a move which was then made permanent. In Naples Pandev won 2 more Coppa Italia cups. Pandev was a good squad player at Napoli, again picking up a knack for scoring and assisting in big games. After Napoli Pandev played one season in Istanbul with Galatasaray where he scored 7 goals in only 17 appearances, before returning to Genoa in Italy. Pandev has been with Genoa since 2015 and has turned out for them more than any other club in his career racking up over 150 appearances. Despite now being the grand age of 37, Pandev has been vital in reaffirming Genoa’s Serie A status year on year, throughout his late thirties.
One of Pandev's best goal in a Genoa shirt, highlighting his technical capabilities
What does Pandev offer at 37?
So far this season Pandev has 6 goals and 2 assists, that is more goal contributions than Paulo Dybala has in Serie A and the Champions League this season. Since turning out for Genoa at the age of 33 Pandev has 27 goals and 6 assists, a very good return for an elder creative player, playing for a side who finished 17th the past two seasons and who are only 5 points above the drop zone this season, with 5 games to play. Pandev statistics are very hard to quantify as he plays for a domestic and international team that sees very little of the ball and are on the backfoot for the majority of almost every game they play. Despite this Pandev’s impact for both club and country is clear to see. At Genoa Pandev is the creative force linking midfield to attack as well as weighing in with important goals himself, while for North Macedonia he leads the line well with his experience and know how having spent most of his career at the peak of European football. He has the role of being a captain who must help inspire a solid current crop of players such as technical La liga midfielder Enis Bardhi as well as Napoli’s Eljif Elmas.
Pandev’s Legacy in Serie A
Deservedly so Pandev holds true cult hero status in Serie A. From lighting up the Stadio Olimpico in his younger years, winning an iconic treble at Inter, to leading his side away from relegation at Genoa in his latter years, Pandev is a true icon for the past decade of Italian football. Creative left footed forwards such as Pandev feel as if they are becoming a rarer and rarer asset in modern football. Pandev stands out from the crowd due to the range of technical goals he has scored with his left foot over the years as well as standing out for his reputation of turning up in finals and big games. This season may well be his last but if he can go out with a bang particularly with North Macedonia at Euro 2021, then Pandev may well be tempted to solider on for one more year much to the delight of most avid viewers of Serie A.
Written by- Joe Langlands
LinkedIn- Joe Langlands