DORIN GOIAN won 60 caps for Romania that included mouth-watering matches away to Spain, the Netherlands and Germany.
He represented his country at Euro 2008 where he starred against France and Italy. As a Palermo player he savoured Serie A contests against Juventus, Roma and Inter, while in Greece he braved the notorious red-hot atmospheres at Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.
In a 20-year playing career the big defender saw and achieved the lot. And yet he does not need to hesitate for even a split-second when it comes to naming his favourite football memory.
“The Old Firm game was like nothing else I experienced throughout my whole career,” said the 39-year-old.
Goian had been signed by Ally McCoist from Palermo in the summer of 2011 and six weeks later was thrust into the madness of his first derby, with Celtic coming to Ibrox on September 18.
It was even more frenetic than normal. Rangers found themselves 2-1 down at half-time but roared back in the second half through goals from Nikica Jelavic, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith (2) to seal a memorable 4-2 victory.
Goian, who also played in a 3-2 Old Firm win later that season, admits he was blown away by the whole occasion. And the fact that Rangers also won to maintain their perfect start to their Premier League title defence only made it even sweeter.
He recalled: “I couldn’t believe the atmosphere in the stadium that day. I had never seen anything like that before. And the feeling afterwards because we had won was incredible. It was like I was flying.
“I had heard so much about the Old Firm games for weeks after I signed. People always told me it was going to special. But I was still shocked by it. The atmosphere was just on another level.
“I have always told my friends here in Romania that it was the best experience of my career. No doubt. I have played many, many games for different clubs and for my country. But the Old Firm derby was definitely number one in terms of atmosphere, passion and noise. Incredible.”
The Romanian was paired with Carlos Bocanegra that day and he and the American would go on to forge a solid defensive partnership.
He added: “Carlos was the captain of the USA national team and a very good player. We got on well. He had a lot of experience and was a good guy, too. We built up a good understanding after playing together for a while.
“In the beginning it was not quite so good. It was difficult. But after a few games we started to look better in defence. And it turned into a good partnership for Rangers.”
The American also became a friend off the pitch, as did Lafferty and Steven Davis. And Goian was delighted to see the midfielder return “home” to Rangers and make a big impact in his second spell.
He revealed: “After the games we would sometimes go out to eat dinner together with Carlos, Kyle and Steven. They were good friends at that time.
“I see that Steven is back at Rangers and I am very happy for him. Finally, in my opinion, he is back home. When I played with him you could see he was a Ranger at heart. He was the captain of the team and maybe suffered more than the rest whenever the team had a bad performance or a defeat. So it is great that he is back at Ibrox and playing well.”
McCoist’s reputation had a big part to play in getting Goian to sign for Rangers in the first place, as the player explains.
“Ally McCoist is a legend of Glasgow Rangers. When I was at Palermo and I heard there was some interest from Rangers to sign me I went on the internet to find out who the manager was. And wow! It was Ally McCoist. And I knew this was a club legend at Ibrox.
“So it was a big honour working for him. I learned a lot of things from him in my time at the club.”
Season 2011/12 was, of course, a seismic one for Rangers. Going into administration saw the team docked 10 points and naturally had an unsettling effect on the playing squad.
Goian explained: “It was a strange season. At one point I think we were about 10 points or so in front of Celtic in the table. We won our first nine league matches in a row. The team was doing unbelievably well.
“And then we had the situation with the SPL who took away 10 points. That made it really hard for us. Psychologically it was not good for the players. Mentally it was very difficult. But we kept going until the end of the season as best as we could.”
It got worse in the summer when Rangers were ordered to start out the following season in division three.
Goian featured in the first few games of that campaign before moving back to Italy on loan at Spezia. He expresses his regret at leaving Scotland after just one year but says the Romanian manager at that time – Victor Piturca – left him with no choice or risk jeopardising his international career.
He explained: “In the summer there was the decision that Rangers had to play in the fourth division. My dream had been to come to Scotland and stay for a long time. I wanted to become Scottish champion. That would have meant a lot to me.
“I wanted to stay with Rangers, even in the fourth division. But I had to move as every day the coach of the national team was calling me to say he would not select me.
“He said he could not pick me for Romania if I was playing in the fourth division. Even if it was for a club as big as Rangers.
“He said that if he did that then all the media and the fans would give him a lot of problems for selecting a player from that division. And he did not want that.
“So that was the principle reason that I signed for Spezia in Italy. I did not want to leave Rangers as I loved it there. But I wanted to keep playing for my country. That is why I had to move. It was a very tough decision for me.”
Despite that setback, the former centre back has nothing but positive memories from his time in Scotland.
He added: “It was a unique experience playing for Rangers. It was an honour for me to play for such a huge team and in front of so many supporters all around the world.
“I was glad I got the chance to go there and only sorry that I was not able to stay longer. It was an unbelievable time for me in my career.”