Macedonian football has taken on various forms over the last few decades. From comprising as part of Yugoslavia to becoming independent and taking on various names, their domestic scene has taken a while to establish itself. However, the rise of top talents such as Goran Pandev and Enes Bardhi alongside North Macedonia’s appearance at Euro 2020 has put their nation’s scene in the spotlight. Long just an afterthought to European football, their new found fame gives Macedonian clubs the chance to shine on a brighter stage for the first time. But just who are the best clubs in North Macedonia?
One of the more familiar clubs in the country, FK Rabotnicki have been one of the more dominant sides since North Macedonia became independent. Based in Skopje, the club was founded in 1937 and became one of the region’s primary clubs during the Yugoslav era. It was understandable that they would be a dominant force in their own national league and this was none more apparent in the early 2000s. They would win 3 1.MFL titles in 4 years between 2005 and 2008 alongside claiming three Macedonian Cup titles in the same area. After a slight rebuild, they would claim their fourth league title in 2015 to make them the second most successful side in the country. These results also resulted with chances to shine in Europe playing qualification matches against the likes of Liverpool and Lazio although they have yet to appear reach the group stages of any major European cup.
A club who only recently found their feet, FC Struga have risen to slowly become one of the more consistent Macedonian sides in the domestic scene. Despite only being found in 2015, the club have quickly risen up the ranks winning back to back promotions from the third tier to reach the 1.MFL within three years of their existence. A close-knit squad mixed with fierce home passion has seen the team rise to occasional title challengers even if they have yet to win any of the top prizes in Macedonian football. With that in mind, silverware surely won’t be too far away for the club.
When a club is formed by the nation’s most famous player for decades, there’s always a good chance for some sort of success. That is what Goran Pandev hoped to achieve with a side back in his homeland. Using the wealth he earned from his time in Italian football, Pandev launched a side in his hometown of Strumica. Since their foundation in 2010, Akademija have grown into a national force thanks to strong funding and a solid talent pool. This has resulted in some impressive results including winning the 2019 Macedonian Cup and finishing runners up in 2021. With excellent backing both on and off the pitch, success won’t ever be too far away from Akademija Pandev in years to come.
Formed in 1979 to give Albanian residents in Macedonia a sporting voice, Shkendija have always enjoyed strong support throughout their existence. It’s a reason why the Tetovo-based side have grown into one of the country’s major sides since North Macedonia gained independence in 1991. After slowly rising through the ranks, the side burst into prominence in 2011 winning their first 1.MFL title. The success almost bankrupted the club however a takeover led by German millionaire Nazif Destani in 2013 turned the club into one of the richest in the country. This gave the club the resources they need to dominate the league. This brought three titles in the late 2010s as well as 2 Macedonian Cup victories. This newfound success has made them one of the prominent sides in the country and one that is backed by some of the strongest support anywhere in the country.
Even though Shkupi themselves are relatively new to football, the history of the club stretches a long way back. The club was formed of the merger between two of Macedonia’s most famous entities – Sloga and Vardar. The history of both sides – 14 1.MFL titles – gave Shkupi a wealth of knowledge to get their club off the ground and get fans to the stadiums. The end result has been a side pushing to reclaim the glory days and bring trophies back to Skopje. Having seen plenty of resources pushed into the club in recent years, don’t be surprised to see them claiming silverware and appearing in European competitions in the not too distant future.