On April 5, 2009, Sir Alex Ferguson entrusted a 17-year-old with the responsibility of getting United back into a must-win game against Aston Villa in an absorbing title race with Liverpool. With just 10 minutes remaining, Cristiano Ronaldo made it 2-2 but it was Federico Macheda who scored the famous winning goal.
On the stroke of full-time, the Italian expertly took the ball in his stride, turned and curled the ball round a helpless Brad Friedel. If it wasn’t enough to excite the Red Devils fans, a week later the teenager scored again against Sunderland while making his second appearance for the club. He came on as a substitute in the second half and scored just 46 seconds after taking to the pitch. Once again it proved to be a match-winning goal as United marched on to their 18th League title. The Italian wonderkid quickly became a cult hero at Old Trafford.
As par Premier League regulations, a player must appear in at least 10 league games – either as a substitute or starter to qualify for a winners medal, Macheda fell short with only 5 appearances.
However, Sir Alex and United officials appealed to the Premier League in order for Federico Macheda to be awarded a league winners medal, such was his impact. With the youngster’s goals transforming two draws into victories, the four-points earned were ultimately proven key in a tight title race.
Macheda captured the imagination of football fans around the world with his clinical finishing, intelligent movement and ability to curl shots on goal from outside the box. He has been described as a “modern striker”, equipped with an ability to read the game, positional sense in the box and strong physique. In 2010 Don Balón included him in their list of the 100 best young players born after 1989.
The following season, Macheda continued his development at United as he appeared in 10 games. On April 3, Macheda scored his solitary goal of the season. With United one nil down against Chelsea, Macheda came on as a substitute and scored a consolation goal in a 1-2 defeat.
The next season, after an average start the Rome-born forward was sent on a loan spell at Sampdoria in January. He scored only one goal for the Italian side in 14 appearances as the club’s poor performance led to their relegation to Serie B.
The succeeding season he expressed his wish to continue his football education in England and opted to stay in Manchester. However, he didn’t get much game time and only participated in United’s League Cup campaign which didn’t last long. In January, he was loaned out to fellow Premier League club Queens Park Rangers. Though his season was cut short by an ankle injury.
In the subsequent three seasons, Macheda was sent out on loan to VfB Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City respectively. In that time, the forward only managed 13 goals in 47 matches. He was released by United at the end of 2013/14 season after he struggled to live up to his early potential.
After being released by United he signed for Cardiff City, where he made 21 appearances and scored 6 goals in 2014/15 Championship season. The following season his career went from bad to worse, having made no league starts and very few substitute appearances in 2015–16, Macheda joined fellow Championship club Nottingham Forest on loan and didn’t get much playing time.
Upon his return, his contract was cancelled by mutual consent. The talented forward went back to his native Italy in a desperate attempt to resurrect his career. He joined Serie B side Novara Calcio on an 18-month contract. During his time in Serie B, he made 51 appearances and scored 10 goals.
Macheda currently plays in the Greek Superleague with Panathinaikos. In September 2018, he signed a three-year deal with the club and in August 2020 extended his contract to 2023. The relatively obscure Greek Superleague has helped the Italian regain his confidence in front of goal, scoring 28 goals in 70 appearances since arriving in 2018.
It is hard to point out what went wrong with the talented forward, who was once regarded as one of the EPL’s most promising prospects.
It just shows that it is not enough to burst onto the big stage as a teenage wonderkid, players have to continue their development in order to achieve their full potential. Remember, for every Kylian Mbappe there are hundreds of Federico Macheda’s.