Spurs connections - KF Shkëndija
Thu 24 September 2020, 15:56|Tottenham Hotspur
Prior to tonight’s clash with Shkëndija, we have never faced a North Macedonian team in our history. However, in the world of football, there will always be connections to be found ahead of a game!
In the case of this evening’s opposition in the Europa League third qualifying round encounter in Skopje, a link between the two sides is far more straightforward than it would first appear, as the scorer of their winner in the previous round against Botosani - Besart Ibraimi - is an old team-mate of a former Spurs midfielder.
A former Schalke 04 player, Ibraimi was briefly team-mates at the Bundesliga side with former Spurs midfielder Lewis Holtby between 2010 and 2011.
Holtby later signed for us from the German club in January, 2013, and went on to make 42 appearances for us, scoring three goals, before departing for Hamburg on a permanent deal two years later. The 30-year-old is now plying his trade with Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s clash to reporter Boris Paunovski of North Macedonia’s Antenna 5 Radio Network, Ibraimi spoke of his memories of his former colleague Holtby while he also offered his thoughts ahead of the knockout tie.
“I remember him very well. We played together many times,” he recalled about the German international. “A hard-working player and a great character. Tottenham always have good players.
“It is going to be a great pleasure and true privilege to play Tottenham in the Europa League. We feel that this a great reward for our efforts. You don’t get to play a great team from the Premier League every day.
“I know who they are, and I know the quality of their players, but we are going to give our all, 100 per cent and see where that takes us. We are under no pressure but hoping for a miracle upset.”
The links between us and tonight’s opponents do not end there either as another Shkëndija player, midfielder Valmir Nafiu, has also been a team-mate of Holtby’s – this time at Hamburg.
Nafiu and Holtby linked up in northern Germany during the latter’s 2014/15 loan spell at the Volksparkstadion, before the midfielder made the move from White Hart Lane permanent at the end of the campaign. The German international wasn’t the only former Spurs player with Hamburg at the time either as Club legend Rafael van der Vaart was also plying his trade with Die Rothosen.
Meanwhile, plenty of our current and former players have experience of playing at tonight’s venue - the National Arena Tose Proeski, Skopje.
In 2017, the stadium was host to the UEFA Super Cup Final in which Manchester United took on Real Madrid. Our Head Coach Jose Mourinho was then in charge of United while recent arrival Gareth Bale was in action for parent club Real.
Gareth had previously visited North Macedonia’s national stadium with Wales back in September, 2013. The winger was an unused substitute that night, but full-back Ben Davies started and played the full game in the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier against FYR Macedonia. Former Spurs defender Chris Gunter also appeared that night for the Dragons.
Six months prior to Wales’ visit, Toby Alderweireld was also in action at the 30,000-plus-seater arena as he represented Belgium in a FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier against FYR Macedonia. The defender played the full 90 minutes, while former Spurs Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli were also part of the Red Devils squad.
A total of 21 other former Spurs players have also played at North Macedonia’s national arena during their careers for their respective national teams: Paul Robinson, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Michael, Carrick and Aaron Lennon (England), Dimitar Berbatov (Bulgaria), Luka Modric, Verdan Corluka and Niko Kranjcar (Croatia), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Teemu Tainio (Finland), Gudni Bergsson (Iceland), Edgar Davids and Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands), Gregorz Rasiak (Poland), Robbie Keane and Stephen Kelly (Republic of Ireland), Gheorghe Popescu (Romania), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Alan Hutton (Scotland) and Goran Bunjevcevic (Yugoslavia).