Injury stole my dream but I have no regrets’ – Iliev opens up on Arsenal exit after contract termination

January 28, 2022
In a GOAL exclusive, the Macedonian goalkeeper talks about his darkest days at the Emirates and why he owes everything he has to the club

For Dejan Iliev, it’s the end of an era.

The Macedonian goalkeeper first arrived at Arsenal in 2012, plucked from near obscurity by Arsene Wenger following a successful trial.

But now, a decade on, his time with the Gunners has come to an end following the mutual decision to terminate his contract six months early.

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Iliev leaves without having made a single senior appearance, with a knee Injury suffered in 2015 sidelining him for 25 months, just as he was on verge of making his first-team breakthrough.

But the 26-year-old has no regrets and as he begins his search for a new club, he looks back on his 10-year stay in North London with nothing but affection.

“It’s obviously sad,” he admits during an exclusive interview with GOAL. “I’ve been at Arsenal long-term so I’ve got a connection with the club, I love the place.

“I went there when I was very young and I met many people. I worked with many different coaches and many big players.

“I had the opportunity to work with my idol when I was growing up, Petr Cech. They are all unbelievable memories that will stay with me until I die.”

Iliev added: “There are definitely no regrets. I made the right choice by joining Arsenal and I was very happy until the very last day.

“It’s a great club where I didn’t just improve on the pitch, I improved as a person. I learned a lot of different things and I learned to appreciate different things in life. 

“Ten years have gone very fast and, unfortunately, I had some injuries, but this is part of the business. 

“Everything has to come to an end some day and that’s what happened with my time at Arsenal. Now, I have to go elsewhere.”

Iliev spent the first half of this season on loan with SKF Sered in Slovakia.
It was a loan spell that started well but an injury then saw him lose his spot in the side and he struggled to regain it after battling back to fitness.
So, he returned to Arsenal in January and, after talks with the Gunners hierarchy, his contract – which was due to expire in the summer – was terminated early.
“It was just mutual consent,” he explains. “I asked the club if it was possible and they agreed with it. They listened to what I had to say, I listened to them and, in the end, we thought that it was the best decision.”
Having been an Arsenal player for the past decade, Iliev admits the thought that he is now a free agent is taking some getting used to.
He is now back in Strumica, in Macedonia, and offers are already starting to arrive from interested clubs.
Iliev is in no rush to make a decision, however, with the shot-stopper determined to find a club that can provide him with the stability he has craved for the past few years.
“This is the most important thing for me,” he said. “I’ve had a few loans, but a loan is always difficult. You go, you meet people for a short period of time and then you leave.
“I would like to put myself in a club where I could stay for the long-term. It’s very difficult to go to a different country, a different culture, a different coach and adapt in a short period of time.”