It is now three years, three months and seven days since Federico Macheda burst onto the Premier League scene, curling home a stunning and hugely significant winning goal against Aston Villa in the third minute of injury time. The Italian youngster’s Old Trafford effort, forever associated with Manchester United’s 2008/9 title victory, hailed the start of what promised to be a fantastic career. It hasn’t quite worked out like that for Macheda in the intervening years.
Indeed, injury, squad competition, a perceived attitude problem and two disastrous loan spells mean that the former-Lazio player has made almost no career progress since that famous Stretford End goal. And if Macheda’s regression has been disappointing, both to player and manager Sir Alex Ferguson, then it is placed in stark relief with two of the United players who first ran to celebrate with Macheda on the day: Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans.
Now back at United after a short loan spell with Queens Park Rangers last season, Macheda will go on tour with Ferguson’s first team squad to South Africa, Asia and northern Europe this summer, with the 20-year-old still hoping to make a career at the club. It could well be the Italian’s last chance.
“It’s great to be back at Manchester United,” said Macheda, who played six times for QPR without scoring last season.
“When you go on loan you really understand how important it is to play for this club. I’m really happy to be back and I can’t wait for the start of the season.
“Last season was disappointing. In the first six months I didn’t get a lot of opportunities here so we decided it was best for me to go on loan. When I got to QPR things went a bit wrong, though, as I was feeling my ankle a lot. But now I feel a lot better and want to start the season well. It’s a big season for me.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, with Macheda joining QPR during the January transfer window; the Premier League loan that was long-over due. The striker made his Rangers’ début on 3 January as a substitute for Heiðar Helguson – by 28 March Macheda returned to United for treatment after an ankle injury brought his season to a premature end. In between there were just six appearances – three in the Premier league – as new manager Mark Hughes preferred January acquisition Djibril Cissé.
Disappointment at the west London outfit was the second winter loan gone bad for Macheda after the striker returned ‘home’ in 2011 to Sampdoria - seemingly against Ferguson’s wishes. In 16 fixtures with la Samp, Macheda scored just once in a Coppa Italia tie against Udinese. Worse still, Sampdoria’s awful form matched the striker’s with the Genoa-based club relegated to Serie B by the end of the campaign.
Add in numerous injuries and the perception that Macheda doesn’t work quite as hard as United’s coaches might like, and the Italian is surely on the precipice at Old Trafford.
But this summer’s tour, which takes in six games across five countries and over 22,000 miles of travel, could provide Macheda with a fresh career impetus, especially with Michael Owen departed and Dimitar Berbatov’s future still uncertain. It’s an opportunity that the Italian simply must take; one final chance to demonstrate that Ferguson’s faith is not unfounded.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Macheda told ManUtd.com.
“It’s always great to visit fans in different countries. You meet new people, you see new cities, you experience different cultures. I didn’t know how big the club was around the world when I went away for the first time in 2009. But I was very impressed by Malaysia, China and Korea. We have great support all over the world and I love being part of this team.”
Whether Macheda remains part of the team in the coming season is still open to question though, even if Ferguson praised the Italian’s potential once again earlier this summer. But it is a career that cannot continue to fester; six months in United’s reserves waiting for an opportunity while Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández rotate striking duties in the first team can serve neither United, nor player well.
Yet, after failed loans both abroad and in the Premier League neither player nor club’s options are wide. Macheda may find another temporary move within the top division – it is, after all, more likely than the Italian forcing his way into Ferguson’s plans. Equally, the striker cannot afford to be less than first choice at a new club either. It reduces Macheda’s realistic options substantially.
Neither will a sale maximise United’s value in these Glazernomic times, making Macheda’s permanent departure unlikely while the player remains at a low ebb. It leaves fans pondering whether the youngster has regressed from teenage wunderkind to the scraphead in three short years.
Perhaps, not quite yet. But whether Macheda stays at United or departs for pastures new, the coming season promises to the most important in a fledgling career.