Federico Macheda admitted, after his smartly taken double against New England Revolution on Wednesday night, that he is glad to be back at Manchester United. The 19-year-old Italian striker suffered a nightmare goalless loan spell at Sampdoria last season in which i Blucerchiati was relegated from Serie A in the most traumatic circumstances. Yet for the all the teenager’s promise his has been a frustrating fledgling United career; one that may well not take off this season given the competition in Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad.
Aside from doubts about Macheda’s raw ability at the top-level – a perceived lack of pace has not been resolved – and the youth’s immaturity as professional, Macheda is at best fifth choice for the coming season. After all, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez are now established as Sir Alex Ferguson’s first choice strike pairing, with the Scot likely to use Dimitar Berbatov in rotation and Michael Owen as an impact substitute. Indeed, Owen has claimed that Ferguson will deploy the 31-year-old former Liverpool player more often in the coming campaign.
It is a level of competition that leaves Macheda fighting with returnees Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf for a place in Ferguson’s planning this season. That all three left on loan only to return in exactly the same squad position says much for the wealth of options that Ferguson now possesses at Old Trafford.
Should United fail to secure at least one high-profile central midfielder this summer, Ferguson is also likely to pack midfield next season – as the Scot often did away from home last campaign – in the knowledge that it is by far the Reds’ weakest part of the team.
Still, Macheda says he has learned much from his chastening experience in Italy – a move the Italian had pushed for and must now live to regret – and realises that the grass is rarely greener away from Manchester.
“I am very happy because I had a difficult six months,” admitted the former Lazio player, who scored no goals in 16 appearances on loan last season.
“I am not scarred by it. You learn a lot from bad experiences. I couldn’t wait to get back here from Italy, even though it is my own country. There is a different mentality in Italy. They don’t see young players like they do in England. They don’t. I grew up as a man. I have another mentality now. When you leave Manchester United, go somewhere else and come back, you realise just how different it all is. It is better to work really hard and I hope to stay here.”
Yet Macheda faces the very real prospect of intermittent appearances in cup competitions followed by lengthy spells in United’s reserve side if he remains at Old Trafford. Ferguson has seemingly told Welbeck that the 20-year-old England player will be a member of United’s squad for the forthcoming season despite Sunderland’s continued interest.
Diouf meanwhile, following an almost equally disastrous loan spell at Blackburn Rovers last season, will be sold if there are any takers. Inconsistency may well leave the Senegalese striker in the same position as Gabriel Obertan; on the fringes and unlikely to ever get a lengthy run in Ferguson’s side.
If the choice comes down to Welbeck and Macheda for a fifth spot in Ferguson’s striking roster this season then it is no easy one for the Scot to make. Each of his young strikers offers much. After all Welbeck had an excellent start to the last campaign with Sunderland, only for injury to break the striker’s rhythm. Six goals in 26 appearances tells only part of Welbeck’s campaign on Wearside, in which he started many games wide left for Steve Bruce’s outfit.
Yet it is Macheda who has the real eye for goal, evidenced by the Italian’s smart double against Revolution at Foxborough’s outstanding Gillette stadium on Wednesday. If Ferguson retains Welbeck it will be for the youngster’s flexibility; yet it is Macheda that offers the match-winning eye for goal.
The question now is whether the kid, who burst onto the scene with a dramatic winner against Aston Villa at Old Trafford two years ago, can rescue his United career. Others – in particular Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique – have gone on to build outstanding careers despite promising starts at Old Trafford that failed to materialise into a starting place. This fact points to a move away if Macheda is to progress in the coming year.
Indeed, even if the youngster continues to find the net in pre-season Macheda will find himself on the outside come the start of the Premier League season in around a month’s time. Much as the Italian has now realised, as many do, that life is far from rosy away from the Old Trafford family the brave decision may be to push for a loan move away.
This time, however, Macheda will achieve much by remaining in England, as Ferguson had pushed the youngster to do last January. In the winter window West Bromwich Albion failed to solidify an initial interest in taking the player on loan amid reports that the youngster had pushed hard for a return to Italy. It’s a mistake that the newly mature Macheda is unlikely to make again.
“Macheda’s finishes were first class,” said United manager Ferguson after Macheda’s strikes against Revolution.
“He is special. At 19 years of age, we still have great hopes for him.”
It is now up to the player to take his chance.