In just under three weeks it will be 11 years since Federico Macheda lit up Old Trafford. Off the bench for his debut as a 17-year-old against Aston Villa he wrote himself into the club’s history books as he curled his effort past Brad Friedel in front of the Stretford End to give Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a 93rd-minute winner.
Six days before the Italian had hit a hat-trick for the reserves and the hype around the forward, who joined United in 2008, went through the roof after his moment of magic that saw Ferguson’s side leapfrog Liverpool to go back to the top of the Premier League. Another goal off the bench against Southampton led for more calls for the teenager to be given a chance in the starting XI. But, the 28-year-old, who is now at Panathinaikos, never realised his potential and after six separate loan spells he left the club on a permanent basis in 2014.
Despite making less than 40 appearances in his time at Old Trafford the Italian has no regrets about his time at the club and believes it has shaped the player he is today.
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“I don’t regret anything. Manchester United was a very beautiful experience for me and I still have many fantastic memories of my time there. Memories that I still take with me everywhere I go,” he said. “In Manchester I grew up not only as a player but also as a man and I will always cherish those wonderful memories of my time playing for the biggest club in the world.”
Game time was limited for Macheda with competition for places intense. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Michael Owen and Danny Welbeck were all ahead of Macheda in the pecking order and Ferguson decided it was worthwhile for the Italian to go out on loan.
But, his decision to push to go to Sampdoria is one of his career regrets. There was interest from Premier League clubs with Everton and Sunderland both keen on a move but the forward pushed for a temporary transfer to Italy.
“I wouldn’t make that decision again. I once said that going to Sampdoria was a mistake because it was a negative experience for me but it’s part and parcel of a footballer’s career,” Macheda said. “Sometimes you take a good, sometimes a bad decision. That one was a bad one. But it was a good lesson, which taught me a lot.”
Macheda only made 16 appearances in all competitions for the Italian side, scoring just once, and he came back to Old Trafford. More loan spells followed at Queens Park Rangers, Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City with short periods at United dotted in between. In 2014, five years after he burst onto the scene and was hailed by some as the next Cristiano Ronaldo, he was released.
“We all know that it’s hard for anyone to establish themselves at a club like that but I left a blueprint on United’s history," he said.
“Remember that during my time there Manchester United had many great players so it was difficult to play regularly. Of course I would have loved to play longer but I have no regrets because I gave my best, tried my hardest to excel but like everyone knows I was also a bit unlucky with injuries. After that, the club and I went separate roads and I took my own career path.”
But Macheda does think that his career could have played out differently had he managed to avoid injury.
“No one knows how my career would have panned out if I hadn’t scored that goal (against Villa),” he said. “But I had a lot of bad luck with injuries in the years after that famous goal and it wasn’t easy to cope physically and mentally.”
After a failed spell at Cardiff things have been on the up for the striker in recent years and he’s currently at Panathinaikos where he is enjoying a fruitful spell in front of goal. He has already equalled his season best of 13 goals in all competitions but with all leagues shut down due to Covid-19 who knows when, or if, he will get to add to his tally this season.
And, when football does eventually return the forward has not ruled out a return to playing in Italy one day.
“An Italian team I’d love to play for? Lazio,” Macheda replied. “I’d choose Lazio over Inter, Milan and Juve because I am Laziale.”
Additional reporting by Alessandro Schiavone