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Despite being just 20 years old, Federico Macheda is being written off as a potential United footballer in many quarters. His loan move to QPR is widely considered to be a good move for him but has he played his last game in a United shirt?
In many ways, that goal has almost been a curse on Macheda. Andy Gray in commentary said, “a star is born” – in truth, his star has never shone quite as expected since then.
In his first season with the club he struck a good partnership with Danny Welbeck for the U18s. Danny’s a year older than Kiko who aged 16 scored 12 goals in 21 games, ending 2007/08 as the Academy’s top scorer. He even got a chance in the Reserves that year and managed to score two goals in his four appearances.
His second year at the club would become famous for goals in the first team against Villa and Sunderland but they came off the back of yet more impressive returns – 8 goals in 15 Academy games; he quickly outgrew the Academy and as a second year scholar, aged 17 he was fully fledged in the Reserves, making 19 appearances and scoring 11 goals. He ended the season as the Reserve’s top scorer; his tally included a hat-trick against Newcastle at St James’ Park. For his 21 goals across the various levels, he won the club’s young player of the year award.
His third season at the club kick-started not so much a spiral of decline but a slow down of his progression. Up until this point Kiko had excelled not because he was quick or strong (there were plenty of quicker and stronger players) but because he was a lethal instinctive striker. It may come as a surprise to many but his touch back then was superb and certainly not half as donkey-like as it is now! As with many young footballers though, Kiko started to get niggles related to his growth and 2009/10 was very stop-start; he never really had any rhythm or consistency – he only made 8 Reserve appearances but still scored four times.
The league cup and ‘easier’ Champions League games were a good chance for Kiko to get games but he rarely stood out. He was often played up front on his own – something that has never really suited him because he’s not the fastest nor the strongest. Macheda’s also odd in that instead of standing out in a weaker side, he just fades; his best performances tend to come when he’s surrounded by better players. This was seen when he got his fitness back towards the end of the 2009/10 season when cameo appearances off the bench were often game-changing. One in particular that stands out was the 3-1 win over Spurs – his link-up play was excellent and he assisted the final goal in the game. In general his ability on the ball is somewhat underrated; he’s a much cleverer player than he often lets on. Unfortunately rustiness has seen him lose that sharpness he most definitely once had.
It’s amazing to think that when Kiko shone on the 2010 summer tour to America he was still only 18. The biggest problem he faces is that expectations are sky high because of what he did against Villa. Once again he got minutes in the team in the first half of the 2010/11 season but they continued to come in weakened or rotated XIs where he’d have minimal service and then rush the one chance that would come his way.
There was something of an arrogance or swagger about Macheda. Maybe he felt he’d already ‘made it’ or believed he was better than he was – either way he needed regular minutes, ideally in the Premier League. They came in the form of a doomed loan spell to Sampdoria. He got regular playing time but often from the bench and only scored one goal in 16 appearances. His problem was that the coach who’d signed him was sacked soon after he joined and the new coach didn’t fancy playing him much. With his playing time diminishing and his confidence low, he returned to United at the end of the season having regressed if anything. The football in Italy didn’t suit him, it was so much slower than in England and he joined a team playing badly and in decline.
Once again, this summer he did well on tour, impressing with the minutes he got and scoring goals. His biggest issue was however the fact he’d now become at best, 5th choice after Welbeck’s amazing progress at Sunderland. That full year loan at a PL side is exactly what Macheda needed this season but despite links to WBA it didn’t happen. Instead he’s had to make do with minutes in the Reserves and fleeting first team appearances, often out on the left hand side – great for the development of someone like Welbeck who does have that versatility, but Macheda’s very much a striker and will never be a winger so playing him there is pointless.
His form this year has been poor – his injuries in 2009/10 can’t be overlooked and last year was awful for him, the chain of events have massively hindered his progress. He needs a fresh start to re-kick-start his career and this loan to QPR could well be it.
In the grand scheme of football he’s still so young but at United he has players ahead of him and those behind him are pushing hard now too. First team football in England is invaluable and at QPR he’ll have plenty of chances created for him but they’re a hard-working team too, it’ll teach him to get stuck in and do his bit. Once again though, it’s so infuriating it’s not a full season loan. Five months is ok but he’ll need time to settle and get used to how QPR play, yet the fans will all expect instant results from him.
Looking ahead, he’s contracted until 2014 and Fergie has lots of faith in him. Next season he’ll turn 21 and with a bit of luck he’ll get a full year loan. Not all players develop early, for some it can take a while to mature – Cleverley is the perfect example, he was 21 when he went on loan to Wigan. There’s no reason why Macheda can’t get his confidence back and with that, some form. He’s still a talent, you don’t lose that natural ability that he once so regularly showed (of course, plenty do well in the Reserves and don’t make it but he was clearly a cut above).
His loan move is expected to be announced on Monday and will no doubt cue plenty to write him off and say we’ll never see him in a United shirt again; I’d recommend that conclusion isn’t reached so hastily.