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11 Years On From THAT Goal Against Aston Villa, Federico Macheda Has Found His Form

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11 Years On From THAT Goal Against Aston Villa, Federico Macheda Has Found His Form

If you think the perfect introduction to top-level football doesn't exist then go ahead and watch Federico Macheda's stunning debut for Manchester United on 5 April 2009.

The 17-year old Italian had never even trained with United's first-team when he was thrust into the big-time in a crucial Premier League game against Aston Villa at Old Trafford and ended up being the hero.

Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov were both unavailable for the fixture such was the striker crisis at United.

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Macheda had been making waves in the reserve set-up and Sir Alex Ferguson went to watch him play away at St James' Park, telling the youngster there was a possibility he would be in the squad.

"The gaffer came to me and told me that if I played well I would probably be involved on Sunday," Macheda told SPORTbible.

"I was surprised because I had never been in touch with the first team but I found out on the Friday I would be in the squad.

"My dream was always to play for the first team even for one minute and when the chance was there I was making sure I would take it with both hands."

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Macheda hit a hat-trick days before against Newcastle and deservedly claimed his place on the bench, just hoping for a glimpse of the action.

With Villa taking a surprise 2-1 lead, Ferguson rolled the dice and took a huge gamble when he substituted Portuguese winger Nani for a rookie who nobody had heard of, with just 30 minutes remaining.

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"We didn't have many strikers up front so I thought if the game was going like this I would probably get the chance to come on in the last five minutes. As soon as I said that I had been called up for the last thirty minutes.

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"I was quite surprised I was playing before [Danny] Welbeck.

"We needed to win that game. We all know Sir Alex is a man who doesn't see ages, he doesn't see nothing - he told me to be cool and play my best. He didn't give me too much instruction but I had interior strength and the will to do well. I didn't think about anything."

Cristiano Ronaldo levelled matters in the 80th minute and then it was Macheda's time to shine. In the very last minute of the game, he screamed for the ball for Ryan Giggs to play the ball into his path.

What followed was a sharp and silky turn that was "pure instinct", before an outrageous curling shot was unleashed into Brad Friedel's top corner for a dream debut.

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"It was a crazy day because it was so unexpected. It was probably the best debut you could ever imagine. If you try to build the perfect debut, I don't think you would be able to build it like mine was.

"It was a great pass and I thought it was the only thing I could do. And then it went how it went. I slipped a bit but when I raised my head I knew I hit the ball quite well. The shot was perfect."

Martin Tyler did one of his trademark voice-breaks as he screamed, "MACHEDAAAAA!" - while Andy Gray gave the worldie goal the "TAKE A BOW!" treatment.

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Macheda confesses he's probably watched the goal back "a thousand times" on the sofa and still gets tagged on Instagram eleven years on from his heroics.

He remembers the sheer euphoria of scoring such a goal, as well as being pulled down by Darren Fletcher before eventually getting to share the moment with his dad Pasquale in the stands.

"All my family were there. I was trying to go to my father and my mum before I got pulled down. It was a tough time because I couldn't breathe! He [Fletcher] had his arms around me and I was struggling to breathe so I asked him to release a little bit!

"I was over the moon. I was not part of the first-team at the time so I was not aware how important that was for us. I was just over moon for myself because I couldn't believe it.

"Everyone was going crazy because it was such an important game when we were struggling with injured players.

"But I was on a different planet, thinking about myself and what just happened. It was a crazy feeling."

Image: PA
Image: PA

Macheda would then continue his fairytale start with another winning goal just 46 seconds into his second appearance for the club after replacing Berbatov against Sunderland.

Image: PA
Image: PA
Images: PA
Images: PA

The former Lazio youngster didn't play enough games to receive a Premier League winners medal but those two goals were key in United winning another title.

Asked whether he feels part of that title-winning triumph, Macheda replied: "Of course, especially in those two games to give six points to a team that was struggling.

"United were struggling before that Villa game - we lost to Liverpool and Fulham I think.

"It was like fresh air for the team. Of course I feel part of the team that won that title because I contributed a lot.

"Also, after it, the players told me I was the one who gave them the strength and probably the title at the time because it was a tough time for them."

Given the sheer quality of attacking players ahead of him, Macheda ultimately failed to nail down a spot in United's side and was loaned out to the likes of Sampdoria, QPR, Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.

After making a total of 36 appearances and scoring five goals, he was released by the club in 2014.

"Everything came up too quick," Macheda stated, honestly assessing his stint at United.

"It was unexpected. The team was a different team to the United now so I knew my time on the pitch would be limited. In front of me I had probably the best strikers in Europe at that time and it was not easy to maintain that level.

"I would play like every three or four weeks, coming on for twenty minutes so it was not easy. But it came like this and what I felt in those first few games at the start I will never forget.

"There were some things I could have done better to make sure my United career was longer. You don't really understand many things when you are young.

"I made a few wrong loans. I made some mistakes going on loan for six months and this didn't help me when I came back."

At Cardiff he was signed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who he very much enjoyed working with and backs to "build back the strong Man United".

Image: PA
Image: PA

He then turned out for Nottingham Forest and Serie B outfit Novara in his native Italy before making the move to Panathinaikos in Greece.

Now, at the age of 28, Macheda is in the form of his life. Feeling "the trust of the club", he's scored 25 in 57 games in the Greek Super League, including 14 in the current campaign - where there are nine games left for him to add some more.

He's experiencing the best goalscoring tally of his career and is rumoured to be attracting interest from Spanish clubs. So, what's the secret to his recent resurgence?

"I found the continuity and what has happened in the last two years is what's been missing," Macheda explained.

"As a player you want to keep playing and I knew if I had all this time on the pitch then I would prove myself. It's been quite a good journey.

"In your career you have ups and downs. There are many things I didn't understand a few years ago that are now more clear - you get this with experience and now I think I'm in the best shape of my career both mentally and physically.

"If I look back two years ago it wasn't thinkable to go back [playing] in a higher level.

"These two years have been a very good response from myself and now I'm starting to believe it more because I see the way I am training and the way I perform. I start to see the bright things coming back again and I'm confident I can make a step up."

Macheda is a firm believer that when it comes to football, the mental side makes up 70 per cent.

At United, he had the luxury of seeing "amazing figure" Rooney and his attitude and work ethic up close and personal.

Image: PA
Image: PA

But of course, the absolute perfect case study for drive and determination to the best was five-time Ballon d'Or winner and all-round phenomenon Ronaldo, who Macheda feels lucky to have learned from.

"He's just a machine this guy. He would do everything he could to become the player he became. I feel lucky to have played with him.

"When you are younger you do not see those things but if I look back now, you realise it was something that built him to be the best player of all time in my opinion.

"He would just go all the way around the training ground, do training, go to the gym then he would swim for an hour - it was just a champion addiction that changed the mentality of many players."

Image: PA
Image: PA

However, Macheda's greatest mentor was undoubtedly a fiery Scotsman who gave him an opportunity that others might not have. He'll always be grateful and had a quick catch-up with the boss not too long ago.

"He was a great man to work with," Macheda said on Sir Alex.

"With me he was so protective and was always there for me - you don't see this a lot in football.

"I was only a young player and the team we had was fantastic. We always had a special relationship and it's not easy to find someone who helps you when something is not going well.

"I spoke with him a few months ago. It was a surprising chat, he just called me and it was good to hear from him again."

Images: PA
Images: PA


Topics: Football News, Aston Villa, Football, Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, Cardiff City, Cristiano Ronaldo

Josh Lawless
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