"Football does marvellous things, doesn't it?" reflected David Babunski after featuring for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in a UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifier on Friday.
The hosts had just beaten Azerbaijan 1-0, but that was not what made the encounter so special. Instead, history was written in Skopje as the 19-year-old and brother Dorian appeared together in a lineup coached by their own father Boban – the first ever father-son combination in an international for the Balkan nation.
"We played a really great match and won," explained David, speaking with his fellow family members in the mixed zone after the game. "A few years ago, football was the reason we were apart as a family, but now it's the reason we're together again and that's made us very happy."
The Babunski siblings have already followed a fascinating trajectory. The sons of former Yugoslavia and FYROM defender Boban initially played together at youth level, first for UDA Gramenet and then UE Cornellà, but in 2011 they went their separate ways, David joining FC Barcelona's youth academy and Dorian their arch-rivals Real Madrid CF. In the meantime, Boban returned to FYROM to start his coaching career.
To be reunited against Azerbaijan was thus an understandably thrilling experience. "Growing up, it was always my dream to play together with my brother for our country, and with our father coaching us," said Dorian, two years younger than David at 17. "I'm delighted that the dream became a reality."
It was by no means the only dream to come true for the brothers this year either. In July, David was promoted to Barcelona's B team, and the following month the attacking midfielder – noted for his technique, vision and a killer pass – made his senior international debut as FYROM defeated Bulgaria 2-0 in Skopje. As for Dorian, a striker equally comfortable with both feet as well as in the air, he made his U21 bow against Norway in June, before signing a contract with Real Madrid's B team in September.
The Babunski clan have clearly come a long way since Boban first started out in football in 1986, making his debut for Skopje's FK Vardar at the age of 18. Part of Vardar's 'golden generation', the centre-back also turned out for the likes of AEK Athens FC, PFC CSKA Sofia, UE Lleida, CD Logroñés and Gamba Osaka. He then turned to coaching, heading FYROM's senior side in an interim capacity in 2005, before being appointed U21 boss in 2009.
"When I called David and Dorian up for the games against Azerbaijan and Norway, I was aware that I was taking a big risk, but in the end I was pleased with the whole team, including my sons," explained the 45-year-old. "I've not been able to follow their every match for their clubs of late, so the way they played against Azerbaijan was a pleasant surprise even for me."
Of course, if the day comes when David and Dorian both contest a Clásico for their Spanish outfits, Boban "would not miss it for anything in the world". As for which team he would be rooting for, that is a little trickier to answer. "I just recently wondered how I would react if that happens. As their parent, it wouldn't be important for me who wins or loses, but I'd want both of them to play to the best of their ability and give their all on the pitch, just like they always do."
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