United’s principal back-up strikers, the reason manager Sir Alex Ferguson refused to spend big on a new striker this summer – Federico Macheda and Danny Welbeck – have failed to make an impact this season. Despite the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, United’s two exciting young forwards’ paucity of appearances this season is stark: Welbeck has made the bench on just one occasion, while Macheda has failed to earn even that honour.
That Sir Alex Ferguson expected each to make an impact on the team this season is not in doubt. To that end Ferguson refused offers to take Macheda, 17, back to Italy on-loan, and talked up 18-year-old Welbeck’s chances of making the England 2010 World Cup squad.
Welbeck, locally raised and a huge Ferguson favourite, is hampered by his frequent growth spurts, which may slow his development. However, it is Macheda’s attitude that is in question. The Italian youngster, who burst on the scene with goals against Aston Villa and Sunderland last season, has already cultivated the kind of celebrity lifestyle that Ferguson abhors.
Ferguson has also objected to the amount of time each spends with their respective national associations. Welbeck has played for both England under-19s and under-21s, while Macheda has been away with the Italian equivalents.
“Welbeck has been called away so much with every single England squad [the Under-19s and Under-21s] that I don’t know if he is our player or their player,” Ferguson told The Times.
“Macheda has been away with the Italy youth teams all the time and has hardly been with us, either. They are away that much with the youth squads, they have forgotten where their real place is.”
It is not the first time that Ferguson has sought to cut younger players exposure to what he deems unnecessary international football. Famously, Ryan Giggs was often injured for international friendly matches during the early stages of his international career. Although denied, many suspected that Ferguson had instigated these squad withdrawals.
Ferguson is, however, demanding total commitment to the United cause from the pair. Rightly so. Ferguson will not allow the cult of celebrity – so enjoyed by younger footballers – to blight the nascent stage of the pair’s careers. Anderson has also been reminded of this rule.
Macheda is likely to start tonight’s home Carling Cup fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers up-front, along with derby goal hero Michael Owen. Welbeck, meanwhile, may well have to settle for a place on the bench, or in one of the wider positions.
In a strong line-up, Ferguson is likely to bring in Fabio da Silva, Johnny Evans, Darron Gibson, Ritchie de Laet, Wes Brown, Gary Neville, Tomas Kuszczak, Zoran Tosic and possibly even Michael Carrick for the match.