Getting to know series: Gjoko Zajkov

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Zajkov makes a sliding tackle during a U21 friendly aganst SerbiaZajkov makes a sliding tackle during a U21 friendly aganst SerbiaThe next interview in our getting to know series involves a highly regarded young player from the domestic league in defender Gjoko Zajkov of Rabotnichki.

Gjoko Zajkov, who turns 19 years old next Monday, has become a standard player for Rabotnichki at a young age and also features for the various youth national teams of Macedonia. Zajkov is considered one of the most talented youngsters within the Macedonian league, and he actually finished in 2nd place for the best young player award in the annual end of the year celebration by the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) for the year of 2013. He only trailed Metalurg's Marjan Radeski who took home the best young player award. As a reminder, we also did an interview with Radeski earlier in the year which you can read here.

The Macedonian public found out about Zajkov last season when he made his senior league debut for Rabotnichki. After impressing on several occasions, he earned a central defender spot in the starting lineup. In the opening 19 rounds this season, he played the full 90 minutes in 16 of those matches. Zajkov has scored one goal and also received three yellow cards. Simultaneously, he has also featured for both the U19 and U21 national teams.

With Zajkov viewed as an important piece for the future, we reached out to him for an interview.  We talked about his early beginnings in the game, about his status with Rabotnichki, the feeling of playing for Macedonia's youth national teams, the importance of physical fitness and his plans for the future.

Here is our question and answer session with Zajkov:

MF: Gjoko, tell us a little more about yourself, about your football beginnings, the coaches throughout your career, and have you always played as a central defender?
GZ: I was born in Skopje and from a young age I had a wish to play football and become a professional footballer. My parents took me to FK Rabotnichki, and I am a byproduct of the club. I started to train at the age of 8 so now for 10 years I have worn the white-red jersey. Many coaches have changed over the 10 years and from all of them I have learned something good. The experience that they wanted to bestow upon us, I accepted and that has helped me over the years, so I'm very grateful for that. My position has always been as either a left or right central defender, but I have also sometimes played as a right wing-back.

MF: Although very young, from the last few rounds of last season to the end of the current first half of the season you have become a regular starter for Rabotnichki.  What is the secret to your good form?
GZ: Well, I began training with the first team when I was 16 years old. I worked hard and still do, I attempt to always give the maximum of myself in trainings and that persistence has helped me a lot. I got a chance to prove myself in friendly matches and that allowed me to earn the trust of the coaches. At 17 years old, I debuted in a league match and I think I met the club's expectations. Furthermore, I utilized several other chances to play solid and to win the complete trust of the coaching staff. By partaking in more and more games, I gained experience which is the most important thing for the position of central back. Thus, with every other game, things became easier and easier for me to fulfill the tasks assigned to me by the coach.

MF: You have played for the U17, U18, U19 and now U21 youth national teams of Macedonia. What does it mean to you to represent the youth national teams and what are your thoughts for the U19 campaign and expectations for U21 in the qualifications?
GZ: To be a part of a national team, regardless of what age, is a great responsibility. It brings great honor and pride that until this point I have worn the national dress in the youth categories. With the U19 national team, despite being equal on points with Turkey and Montenegro who finished in first and second place, we failed to qualify because of the worse goal difference. But, I have to say that truly, as a generation, we showed that we have quality that will showcase itself in the coming years, that it will lead to much bigger success than until this point. With the U21 national team, I got a chance in the August friendly against Serbia and then later in the qualifying match against Norway. Unfortunately, we lost that game which carried a lot of importance. No, that has passed and now we have to play two matches against both Portugal and Israel. We will give our maximum in order to achieve as many points as possible so that in the end we can earn a spot to the next phase.

MF: Since you are a defender, when it comes to training, do you pay extra attention to your fitness preparation? Do you also train by yourself, outside of the club trainings?
GZ: Regarding this question, I can say that one of the most important things in football is the physical preparation.  That is no secret when you look at how some of the best footballers are built, especially for my position where you have to be stable and physically ready. I pay a lot of attention to my fitness readiness, I work after trainings and I go several times a week to the gym. Or, as some of my teammates would say, you spend more time in the gym than at home.

MF: Where do you see yourself in the future? You are under contract with Rabotnichki, but is there already some interest from abroad teams?
GZ: Just like the other footballers, I'm also working to achieve a higher level and to end up with some of the better clubs in Europe where there are better conditions for work and where I would be able to get better and better. I have a contract with Rabotnichki until this summer of 2014. There is still nothing concrete in this transfer window, but I’m hopeful that soon I will make a transfer somewhere abroad.

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