The last hours of 2020 are slowly passing. A year that brought a lot of uncertainty, pain and sadness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. But, the same 2020 will be remembered in our country and for the joy brought to Macedonia as football nation. It will remain written in golden letters in the history of the Macedonian football because our senior national team for the first time qualified for a major football competition, the European Championship. The leader of this golden generation of football players is the man with many top achievements behind his name both at home and internationally. He is the football player with most appearances and the most goals scored for the national team of Macedonia, European and World Club Champion, champion and cup winner in Italy and Turkey, the only Macedonian to win 5 trophies in one season, the only player to win the Italian Cup for 4 consecutive years. There is no other person who would be more suitable for this New Year’s interview, at the end of one and the beginning of another historic year for the Macedonian football. MacedonianFootball.com has the honor to welcome for the first time the best football player in the history of Macedonia – Goran Pandev.
photo by Petr Stojanovski/FFM: Pandev after the final whistle in Tbilisi
Mr. Pandev, congratulations on the historic success. Macedonia has waited for 28 years and has finally succeeded to celebrate great football success. How is the feeling to be the man of decision, the one who took Macedonia to a European Championship for the first time?
Thank you for the congratulation words. My childhood dream to play with Macedonia at a major competition has been fulfilled. The feeling to score the decisive goal is beyond description, it is something that one should feel personally. It was God’s will for me to be a man of decision and I was happiest person on Earth at that moment. The credit also goes to the coaching staff and the players. Without them, I would not have fulfilled my dream for sure, and I know it was their dream as well.
People in Macedonia celebrated the victory on the streets regardless of the pandemic related restrictive measures. The celebration in your coffee bar in Strumica involved trumpets and the legendary song ”Biser Balkanski” (Balkan Pearl). Unfortunately, there was no grand welcome event which would have happened in different times. Did you miss that connection with the people, the stream of emotions, and did your closest family succeed to replicate the home atmosphere after the great success?
We definitely missed the welcome event which the people wanted to organize. My Strumica was on fire, but so was entire Macedonia celebrating this success in a period which is difficult for all of us. I spoke with my closest family and they told me about the emotions and celebrations which took place until the early morning.
During the past 20 years, with your approach towards the national team jersey, your approach on the field but outside as well, in the football clubs where you played, you have become an idol of many young generations and you have earned the respect of the elders both in the country and abroad. Do you see yourself as a star and how do you manage the great popularity and everything that comes along with the status of celebrity?
The national team jersey is holly for me, something greatest in the world and each time I try to do my best. I have been wearing this jersey for twenty years and I want to transfer my experience and professionalism on the field to the younger generations. I certainly like the popularity, but I always have respect for all. I want to help and I never felt as a celebrity.
There are no scandals related to your name throughout the entire career unlike many other colleagues of yours. Does the love with Nadica from the high school days which later was crowned with marriage played a decisive role for the successful career and did the stable family relations contributed to what Goran Pandev is today?
My love with my spouse Nadica has definitely played the key role in what I am and what I have achieved today. The love from early ages has helped me to become a stable person, to think about the family and when I faced problems in the most difficult periods of my career it was the connection with Nadica that gave me strength to overcome those. Hence there are no scandals related to me.
You left Macedonia as a teenager. What was the decisive factor for you to go to Italy instead of some other country?
I left Macedonia at the age of 18, and the offer from Inter was the decisive factor. My club Belasica accepted that offer and I moved to Italy.
Were you disappointed due to the fact that you did not succeed to impose yourself in Inter at the beginning and what was going through the head of the 18-year-old boy? Was there a fear of failure?
I was aware that I was joining one of the biggest clubs in Europe. For me it was a dream coming true and I believed that one day I would play for the first team of Inter. I did not get any chance at the beginning, but knowing myself and my determination I knew that one day I would play for the first team. I was not considering to give up or to be disappointed, I just knew I had to work harder in order to succeed.
From today’s perspective, did you expect to play football actively at the age of 37 and did you ever believe that you will make such significant impact in the Italian football? The statistics say that only two foreigners have played more matches than you in Serie A, and you rank among the 35 football players with most matches played?
Being familiar with my body, the few injuries I had during my career and the sporting way of living, I knew I can play until 37 years. On the other hand, I did not believe that I would make such an impact and play so many matches in one of the best leagues in Europe, I am therefore very happy of what I have achieved in Italy, especially since in the beginning they even did not know where is Macedonia, and now speak of us with respect.
In Italy you wore the jersey of 6 clubs: Spezia, Ancona, Lazio, Napoli and now Genoa. Does any of those have special place in your heart?
All those clubs helped me to advance in my career and to accomplish what I am today. I have respected all clubs and I did my best, but if I must choose, Inter is the club that brought me to Italy and I am grateful to them.
You have been part of three big Italian city derby matches: Lazio – Roma, Inter – Milan and Genoa – Sampdoria. Which one is the most exciting?
All three derbies are different and at the same time great to play. Lazio – Roma is a derby that is played under great pressure and I think the hardest to play.
What is happening in Genoa? Another replacement of a head coach. Is the availability of quality coaches in Italy low, since it is obvious that the same coaches rotate in your club? This summer the club was strengthened with players, but there are no results. What is the problem in your opinion?
Even I do not know how to explain what is the problem in Genoa. We had a change of many head coaches and players and we still can not get out of the danger zone. In my view, many coaches and players were changed, yet the club does not have a clear project to make changes.
Why does not Pandev shoot penalties in Genoa, even when the first choice Domenico Criscito is not on the field? This would only help you to get closer to the number of 100 goals scored in Serie A. Do you think that we will celebrate together the 100th goal by the end of your career?
Goals and penalties have never been important for me, but if I reach the number of 100 I will celebrate it accordingly.
The Macedonians that had played, or are playing in Italy, can be count on the fingers of one hand. Why is it so? Lack of quality, lack of good managers or something third?
I think that our players have the quality, but nowadays in order to make it to a big club, one must have good a manager. Surely, managers play important role today.
Macedonia has a large diaspora in Italy and many of our expatriates have children as members of football clubs there. Do you have information about talented Macedonians who play in the youth clubs and leagues in Italy, and, is anyone standing out to potentially be interesting for the big clubs and our national team in the future?
I am not familiar if there is a kid that is playing in some Italian club and stands out with quality, but I regret that Nikola Sekulov did not accept to play for our national team, because I am certain that we will watch him in Serie A in the future.
Being the only Macedonian football website in English language we are especially proud that with our help in the past 14 years over 100 diaspora football players have been scouted and played for Macedonia starting from U15 to the senior national team. However, there were players who refused to play for us or even such who played for Macedonia, then sold the holy jersey and opted to play for other countries as the above-mentioned Sekulov, Kuluševski and others.
Last season, before the Genoa – Parma match, the cameras caught a moment of conversation between you and the Swedish national Dejan Kuluševski, current player of Juventus. Did you have a chance to talk about the reasons for his rejection to play for Macedonia and were you in a position to influence him to have different epilogue, especially having in mind that he is among the best quality young football players in Europe?
I am a good friend with Kuluševski and we talk often, but I have never asked him why he did not decide to play for Macedonia. I respect his decision, but I regret that he is not with us, since with him in the national team the quality would have been higher.
Why did the adventure with Galatasaray happen? Another country, another style of play, and on top you always said that you did not want to leave Italy because of the family.
Galatasaray was my biggest mistake in the career, but you are allowed to make mistakes in life. It was big experience for me and my family.
How did you react to the pandemic and this state of emergency? Italy is among the most affected countries worldwide, and Macedonia has devastating numbers as well.
It was terrible in Italy, the pandemic has simply changed our lives and I hope that this evil will be over soon.
You own the football club Akademija Pandev (Pandev Academy), the coffee bar 19 and you have invested large financial resources in the construction of a modern sports center in your native Strumica. Given your place of residence, do you manage to keep up to date with all the events related to the functioning of the club, and is it possible to manage the club from distance?
I have certainly committed to many things in Macedonia, big things such as the football club and the sports center, and I have to say that it is very difficult to manage work in Macedonia from abroad. I have daily contacts with the people in the club and I try to help in some decisions as much as I can.
The help from your brother Sashko, who is still an active player in Akademija Pandev, we are sure, means a lot to you. How often do you exchange views on what happens in and around the club? He was considered a great talent and he was predicted to have a brilliant football career, but unfortunately that did not happen. What was the reason that his development path did not follow the steps of yours?
I have daily contacts with Sashko and his help related to the club is of great importance for me. He was a great talent and everybody predicted him a bright career, but with the move to Croatia, changing many clubs and the lack of continuity and sports luck, he did not achieve as expected.
Considering your reputation and the contacts you have in Italy, have you considered Akademija Pandev to become a branch of one of the Italian clubs or at least to establish closer relations with one of them?
There was such idea my club to become branch of some Italian club, but I am confident that one day the club will be able to be self-sustainable.
Belasica is your first club, but currently your biggest city rival. What is your relationship with the parent club and the people who run it? Can Strumica withstand having two clubs in the first division and do you think that someday in the future there can be a merger between them?
Belasica lies in my heart and I have never felt it as a rival. I have excellent relations with the people from the club, but I am convinced that what Strumica needs is one competitive club. Strong Belasica is my wish.
Goran Pandev officially made his debut for the Macedonian national team in June 2001 in Bursa against Turkey, in that great match which ended in a 3:3 draw only due to referee injustice to our detriment. But only a small part of the public knows that Pandev actually made his debut in December 2000 in the FIFA unofficial match against Asturias in Oviedo (0:1 defeat). You are probably one of the few players to have two debut matches. Which one is the true one for you and what do you remember from these matches? Do you keep the jersey from the first national team appearance against Asturias?
I will remember the match against Turkey forever as it was my first official match in qualifications, while the match with the Asturias is special because on that 23 December 2000 my dream to play for the senior national team became reality and I still keep the jersey from this match.
What is your favorite number that you wish to have on the jersey when you play and do you remember which number you had when you debuted in the senior team in Belasica, and in the national jersey against Asturias?
In Belasica I debuted with number 10, while in the national team with 18, but the most important number and the luckiest number for me is my 19.
Which teammate did you communicate with the best on the field, that is with whom were you the best tandem in the attack, and which defensive player gave you the most headaches?
I had the best cooperation in the attack with Tommaso Rocchi from Lazio, while it was hardest to play against Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.
Who is the coach from whom you have learnt the most, regardless of whether it is a club or a national team, and which coach was the most difficult to work with?
I have learnt a lot from Ilija Matenicharov, but I did not have another coach as Delio Rossi who gave me support and continuity. The biggest problems I had with Rafa Benítez.
Speaking of cooperation with coaches, how true is the speculation that former coach Srečko Katanec resigned due to a misunderstanding with you and several of your colleagues before the match with the Netherlands in Amsterdam in April 2009 (defeat 0:4)?
There is nothing true that Katanec left because of me. Even today I am good friends with him.
Which is your dearest moment and which is the hardest in the career?
There are two dearest moments in my career: winning the Champions League with Inter and qualifying with Macedonia at the 2020 EURO.
Some of your colleagues relax by reading books, some by playing video games, listening to music, watching movies, etc. How do you relax in your free time, when you are not having trainings or matches?
I spent my free time with the family. I relax with my children, we play games and watch movies.
You and your wife Nadica have 3 children: Filipo, Ana and Sofia. The life of a top professional football player means frequent absence from home due to preparations, quarantines, matches so that the burden of raising children and running the household falls more on the wife. Do you help your wife with some home errands?
Yes, we have three children and thanks to Nadica, her care and the attention she pays to them we have happy children. I have little time to spend with them since the strict professionalism and the requirements of my profession shortens the moments spent with the family, but I am a happy man to have my wife Nadica, she is everything in our family.
They say that daughters are the weakness of fathers, and sons are the weakness of mothers. Is that the case in your family?
It is certain that girls are fathers’ weakness and that is the truth.
In which position does Goran Pandev see himself in the future? A coach, sports director, national head coach, club president or something completely different?
I cannot say now in which position I see myself but it is my wish to be a sports director.
The news about your possible nomination for President of the Football Federation of Macedonia was very positively accepted by the public. Is that option realistic in the future?
It is not my desire to be head of FFM.
The only thing we can call a stain in your career is giving up the national team in 2013. Not so much the fact that you left but more the way it was done, through an open letter to the public shared via sports media. The public was taken aback and demanded answers. A press-conference might have been far more appropriate for such move, where as a captain and our best player, you would surely have received support for your decision and you would not have left room for speculations and doubts. Why did you give up the national team? And what changed drastically to make you rejoin three years later?
The idea to leave the national team in 2013 was mine only, unacceptable for my family as well. I have decided to make that step because things were happening that were not appropriate for a national team. A lot of players were coming, head coaches were changed, the work conditions were disastrous, we did not have success and it was with a difficult heart that I made that move. My heart told me to do that to signal that things are not working properly. I could have announced it at a press-conference without any problem, but I decided against because deep down I was convinced that one day I will rejoin the national team as it happened with the arrival of Igor Angelovski as head coach. The man came to Genoa, we spoke openly and simply I had to return to the holy jersey.
You have stated that you would like to retire with the match against Germany in Skopje on October 11 next year. Given the start of qualifications for the World Cup in Qatar, which is scheduled for March 2021 before the European Championship, and our possible good results, can we expect you to extend your retirement from the football field for another year both in the national team and at club level? Is there a real chance that the captain will lead us to another historic success, this time qualifying for Qatar?
This is last year for me as a professional football player. I talked to Nadica and have decided to retire after the European Championship. It is my wish this to take place in front of full stadium in Skopje.
What after Goran Pandev? How do you see the future of our national team after your retirement?
This national team of Macedonia has a perspective, has a generation that will bring more joy to the Macedonian fans and I will be their biggest fan.
You are the best scorer in the history of the Macedonian senior football team. Do you want to be the first goal scorer for Macedonia at a European Championship?
I am proud to be the best scorer for the national team, and I hope that we will defeat some of the rivals at the EURO even without my goal.
We have showed that we know how to play football. With the exception of the Netherlands, which stands out slightly, our group is equal, that is we have approximately the same level of quality as Austria and Ukraine. Can we at least reach the round of 16, and why not be a sensation in the championship?
We are outsiders but those are the most dangerous and therefore I believe that we can make sensation in our group.
During the press-conference after the match in Tbilisi, the coach Angelovski said: “They dispute Alexander the Great, but Goran the Great cannot be disputed”.
Appreciation to the coach for the nice words.
Mr. Pandev, the editorial staff of the MacedonianFootball wishes you a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas, wishing you good health, and as Alexander the Great once conquered the world, our wish is in 2021 you as captain of the Macedonian national team to conquer Europe at the European Championship and for the first time in our history to qualify for the World Cup.
I wish you Happy New Year and Merry Christmas. Stay well and in good health.