Ultimate United Articles
Federico Macheda They Promised so much.....
Remember the Italian lad nobody had ever heard of, who turned the 2008-09 Premier League title race upside down? Whatever happened to him…..?
By Philip Meese
This is a bit of a first, as normally when we do an article of this nature, the feature is usually regarding a player that has since retired. This is not the case with Federico Macheda who is still in his twenties, but it’s fair to say that his career has not developed as many predicted.
The Italian forward made worldwide headlines with his last minute debut goal against Aston Villa in 2009, which returned Manchester United to the top of the Premier League. Unfortunately for Macheda, that was as good as it got.
Born in Rome in 1991, he joined the youth system at Lazio at the age of 10, after being spotted playing for a local side, Atletico Prenestino. Italian football regulations prevent clubs from signing players under the age of 18 to professional contracts, much to the dismay of Lazio, who have since petitioned to have this amended. Manchester United took advantage of this, and signed Macheda when he turned 16 in 2007.
In his first season at Old Trafford, he proved to be too good for under 18 level, finishing as top scorer, and was called into the reserves after less than six months at the club. He found himself on the substitute’s bench for the Manchester Senior Cup final, picking up a medal as United beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0.
The 2008-09 season began in much the same vein, Macheda flitted between the Under 18 team and the reserves, before enjoying an extended run in the latter with a hot streak of eight goals in eight games. In March 2009, he hit a hat trick against Newcastle reserves. This hot run of form hadn’t gone unnoticed by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The World is Watching!
With Wayne Rooney having been sent off in the previous match, United were short on striking options for the home game with Aston Villa, with Dimitar Berbatov also missing. Successive defeats against Liverpool and Fulham had seen the Reds’ bid to retain the title in crisis. Macheda was named on the substitute’s bench alongside another academy product, Danny Welbeck.
Despite taking an early lead, United found themselves 2-1 down midway through the second half. Macheda replaced Nani shortly after the hour mark, and had looked impressive throughout. Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed his second of the game in the 80th minute to set up a thrilling finale, one that the fans will never forget.
Liverpool had gone top of the table the previous day by beating Fulham, and it looked like they were going to stay there as injury time approached .In the third minute of added time, Macheda latched onto a ball from Giggs, dragged the ball back and hit it early. It was a curling effort into the corner of the Stretford End net that Brad Friedel, who always seemed to save his best performances for matches against United, just didn’t see coming. The roar of the crowd almost took the roof off Old Trafford – you know it’s an important one when the so called “fans” who depart Old Trafford ten minutes before the end are still there come injury time.
All of a sudden, it seemed that a star had been born. Macheda’s name was on the lips of the nation, he’d scored a goal that would be seen around the world for weeks. It’s a goal that nobody associated with United would ever forget.
Following that goal, Macheda was included in the squad for the home game against Porto but did not come onto the pitch. He made his next appearance away to Sunderland just six days after his winner against Villa. Less than a minute after coming off the bench, he redirected Michael Carrick’s wayward shot into the net to put United 2-1 up, and sealed another three points for the Reds.
The Italian had done enough to convince Ferguson to start him in a big match, and at the age of 17 you aren’t going to feature in many bigger than the F.A. Cup Semi Final. Unfortunately, this time there was no fairy-tale ending, the match finished 0-0 and United lost to Everton on penalties.
As the business end of the season approached, Macheda made a couple more appearances, but did not get on the scoresheet. He was, however, the winner of the Jimmy Murphy Academy Player of the Year, and made his debut for the Italy Under-21 side that summer. In December 2009, he signed a four and half year contract.
That was your Fifteen Minutes of Fame!
With both Cristiano Ronaldo & Carlos Tevez leaving Old Trafford in the summer of 2009, it seemed that there was space for someone else to grab the limelight. The one who did this was actually Wayne Rooney, who scored 34 goals and almost singlehandedly spearheaded United’s title challenge. Even Berbatov struggled to find game time, such was the form of the England striker.
Macheda managed just ten appearances in total during the 2009-10 season, half of them from the bench, and scored just one goal. This was a consolation strike in the 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea which basically decided the destination of the Premier League trophy, and in fairness it looked like he handballed it into the net.
The following season saw Macheda more involved in the first team match day squads, although this was partly due to a lack of options. Rooney’s poor form following the 2010 World Cup, injury and well publicised transfer request meant that there was a space to be had in the first team. Macheda made twelve appearances in the first half of the season, mostly as a substitute. Throughout this period he scored just one goal, an absolute rocket of a shot into the top corner against his old nemesis, Aston Villa.
When Rooney returned to the team, with a new five year contract in his hand, Macheda found himself back on the fringes of the action, as Javier Hernández was enjoying a fantastic debut season and Berbatov was showing some of his best form ever for the club. In January 2011, Macheda was loaned back to his native Italy, with Serie A side Sampdoria. The Genoa club needed firepower to replace the recently departed Antonio Cassano, and try and stave off the threat of relegation. Unfortunately, he only scored once during his time there, and returned to Old Trafford at the end of that season having failed to save the club from dropping into Serie B.
It’s All Downhill From Here
At the start of the 2011-12 season, another academy graduate who had been loaned out, Danny Welbeck, returned to Old Trafford after a spell at Sunderland. Despite not breaking any scoring records at the Stadium of Light, his performances had impressed many. The man whose opinion mattered most obviously agreed with him, and Welbeck started the season as Rooney’s strike partner.
By this time, Macheda was finding first team opportunities ever harder to come by, and his only goal (and final one for the club) in the campaign was a penalty against Crystal Palace in a League Cup tie. He was loaned to Queen’s Park Rangers but made just three appearances for them before an ankle injury finished his season. The next season would see him make just three further substitute appearances, none of them in the Premier League, and a goalless loan spell at VFB Stuttgart followed.
When David Moyes replaced Ferguson in the summer of 2013, he made it clear that Federico Macheda did not feature in his plans, and he was loaned to Doncaster twice in the first part of the season. In January 2014, a move to Birmingham City ensured that Macheda would see out the final six months of his United contract away from Old Trafford, with no renewal on the horizon. At St Andrews, Macheda regained his form and confidence and there was talk of a permanent move to the club, however, at the end of his contract, he signed for recently relegated Cardiff City, managed by his former reserve team coach, and current United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Away from the limelight that being a Manchester United player brings, Federico Macheda has tried to make a career on his own back. Many football fans will have forgotten the heroics of 2009 that made him an instant household name. Maybe the instant fame that goal brought him proved too heavy a cross to bear, as there would have been expectation for him to repeat it everytime he crossed the white line.
In his first season at Cardiff City, playing alongside his former Old Trafford team mate Fabio Da Silva, he scored 8 goals from 25 games. Unfortunately his progress the following season was hampered by a long term back injury that saw him make just eight goalless appearances, and a further three on loan to Nottingham Forest. At the start of the 2016-17 season, Cardiff cancelled his contract.
After three months without a club, Macheda ended up returning to his homeland. He signed an eighteen month contract with Serie B club Novara, scoring seven goals in 21 appearances. Novara missed out on the playoff places by four points, but the following season was a disaster. Macheda managed just four goals, and left at the end of his contract after the club were relegated to Serie C.
A free agent once again, Macheda joined Greek giants Panathinaikos last summer, a club in much turmoil at the moment. After a disgraceful season by their standards, finishing 11th in Superleague Greece, things haven’t gone much better this year. The Athens club are currently 8th in the table, and nowhere near competing for the title. One bright note is that Macheda has scored 7 goals from his 19 appearances, which is the best goals to games ratio of his career to date.
When he first burst onto the Old Trafford pitch, with that explosive impact against Villa, there had been talk throughout the week that he would be included in the squad. In truth, nobody outside Old Trafford probably bothered to watch the videos of his Hat Trick against Newcastle’s reserve team, so it’s fair to say nobody had heard of him. Even more surprising was the revelation that he was only seventeen – he looked about 25, and was as well built as anybody else on that pitch.
Unfortunately, it’s one of those things where the expectations just were not met. Maybe when he went on loan to Sampdoria, he should have gone to a Premier League club, like Welbeck did. If he was ever going to be an asset to United, he would need experience of playing regularly in that league. The Italian league is a totally different style of play, and was hardly going to prepare him for the task ahead.
At 27 years old, Macheda may still have his best years ahead of him, and could still have a fine career. He might even come back to haunt United one day, but his title-saving antics of 2009 aside, nothing he has done since makes it seem like it was the wrong decision to get rid of him.
But whatever he makes of his career, all United fans should wish him well, just for that goal against Villa. He gave us one of the best highs I have ever experienced as a Red, certainly in a Premier League match.
It got United one step closer to knocking a certain team off that perch! Grazie!
Added by Philip Meese on 31/03/2019 14:07:08