PANDEV-ONIUM: THE MAN WHO GUIDED NORTH MACEDONIA TO THEIR FIRST MAJOR INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENT
Goran Pandev is a 37-year-old forward for mid-table Italian side Genoa. This season, he has a goal and an assist in eight games for the team, not exactly the most ridiculous stats.
But back home in North Macedonia, Pandev is a legend on a level with Ronaldo’s status in Portugal.
He is the captain of the national team, having first worn the armband a decade ago in a friendly against Malta. He is also their record goal-scorer, and holds the appearance record, which isn’t surprising, as the national team has only been playing for 27 years.
For 20 out of those 27 years Pandev has lined-up for his country and he has more caps than Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres and Philipp Lahm, despite never featuring in a major tournament.
Last Thursday though, Pandev tapped home the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Georgia, who were also hoping to book a ticket to their first major tournament.
It wasn’t quite a 35-yard screamer, nor was it a stunning scorpion kick straight from the nominations for the Puskas Award but in terms of emotion and importance, it was one of the best goals he'll ever score
Next year they will come up against Austria, Ukraine and the Netherlands in Group C, as they go into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team (65th place). They shouldn’t be written off though as Pandev isn’t the only star player North Macedonia can call on for the competition.
Enis Bardhi is a regular starter for La Liga side Levante, and could genuinely be considered one of the best free-kick takers in the world, alongside that Eljif Elmas is a promising midfielder at Italian giants Napoli.
No matter how good Bardhi’s free-kicks are, or how good Elmas could be in years to come. they will both be hard-pushed to get anywhere near Pandev’s club achievements.
He was part of Inter Milan's 2009/10 treble winning season under Jose Mourinho, when Diego Milito decided he was going to be the world’s best striker for 10 months, Pandev played a supporting role to the Argentine forward and Sameul Eto’o.
In the knockout stages of the Champions League, he featured in six of the seven matches, with Inter winning all six he was involved in.
I’m not saying that Goran Pandev was the reason Inter won the Champions League, but Goran Pandev was the reason Inter won the Champions League.
It can be hard to make the distinction between a great player and a legend, but it is obvious Goran Pandev booked his seat in North Macedonia’s Hall of Legends years ago, and his goal on Thursday just won him the throne at the head of the table.