To help mark UEFA's Jubilee, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Macedonia chose Darko Pančev as their Golden Player. Not many Macedonian players have left their mark on the game in recent years, so Darko Pančev, the legendary striker who began his career with FK Vardar, stands out like a beacon.
As a player with FK Crvena Zvezda, Pančev not only won the 1990/91 European Champion Clubs' Cup, he also scored in the European/South American Cup victory over Chile's CSD Colo Colo. In fact, he was the continent's top marksman that year with 34 goals.
Nor was this Pančev's first taste of success. As a 21-year-old, he was a key figure in the talented Vardar team that won the 1986/87 Yugoslavian championship. Of his early days with the Skopje-based side, he said: "I took up football when I was 11, playing for Vardar's youth teams. We managed to win the Yugoslavian youth cup. Then I made my debut for the first team and scored my first senior goal against NK Željeznicar."
His good form for Vardar soon had many of the big clubs from the former Yugoslavia interested in signing him. Pančev decided to join Crvena Zvezda, and over the next four years the Belgrade outfit touched previously unscaled heights.
Scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out victory against Olympique de Marseille in the European Cup final in Bari capped probably Pančev's best performance in the red and white of Crvena Zvezda. While the subsequent triumph in Tokyo represented the crowning glory for that team.
"I cannot say which trophy is my favourite. I will always remember the title win with Vardar, the three title triumphs with Crvena Zvezda, and the victories in Bari and Tokyo. My first goals for Vardar and for the Macedonian national side are also very dear to me," Pančev commented.
Pančev became the first Macedonian to play in the Italian league when he left Belgrade for FC Internazionale in 1992. He spent two and a half seasons at the San Siro, before further spells at VfB Leipzig, FC Fortuna Düsseldorf and FC Sion.
After independence in 1991, Pančev played for the newly-formed Macedonia national side. "My appearances for the Macedonian national team are very important to me. It was an honour for me, and others who were nearing the end of their careers, to play for our country," he said.
Other career highlights
The centre-forward scored more than 300 goals in official games during his career, 171 of them in the former Yugoslavia. He also reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy in the colours of that nation.
On the future
Now aged 38, Pančev is optimistic about his country's footballing future. "There have always been, and will always be, talented players in Macedonia. There are some organisational problems, but when these are overcome and the right people are in the right jobs, then I believe Macedonian football will continue to improve," he said.
Ahh the glory days of Darko Pancev roud: