Date: 5th April 2012 at 11:25am
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Arriving on the scene: Kiko.

It was three years ago today that a young Italian boy took his first steps on to the hallowed Old Trafford turf, with many people crammed in to the Theatre of Dreams looking puzzled and bemused as to who this guy with the funny sounding name was.

Thirty one minutes later, he had become the name on everybody’s lips.

After scoring a hatrick for the reserves in midweek, and United losing strikers Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov through injury for an important game in the title race against Aston Villa, Federico Macheda was named on the bench as a ‘just in case we need you’ kind of substitute, and one that we all know paid off handsomely.

After entering the fray on 61 minutes, the hype, the hysteria and the melee that ensued after his 92nd minute winning goal meant that a lot of us thought that we’d un-earthed a new diamond.  That he was going to burst on to the United scene in a blaze of glory – the latest Fergie Fledgling to earn legend status.

But it didn’t quite work out like that.

Three years later, he’s still way down the pecking order for selection, and many reds seem to point the finger solely at him as to the reason.  Many with no substance behind their argument – nothing more than “he’s not taken his chances” or “he’s gone backwards”, and I think many of our supporters have been unfair on the striker known as ‘Kiko’.

If you take the time to look at the Macheda story in detail, should we really be as expectant of him as we are?

The naive seventeen year old debutant

United were 2-0 down against Aston Villa on 5th April 2009.  We’d clawed it back to 2-2 and we were heading for a draw when the ball was played in to Kiko about 15 yards out, to the left of the goal.  The youngster took the risk of flicking it, turning, and having a pop at goal at what would likely have been our last chance to take the three points.  Obviously it paid off, and the goal was one of the finest and most important goals that’s been scored at Old Trafford in recent years, setting us up for lifting the title.

But it was only the naivety and inexperience of the lad meant that he had the audacity to try something so risky in the final seconds of the game, and could have wasted the chance to snatch a winner.

Would the experienced Tevez, Rooney or Berbatov given that a try?  No, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have.  Far too risky, and if we’d have had them receiving the ball in that position, that late on, they’d have held it up, looked for a man, attempted to carve open a goal scoring opportunity for someone else.

What I’m saying here, is did we mistake risk, luck and inexperience for a goal of genius proportion? And then set our expectations based on our mis-interpretations?

Chances…or lack of…?

In some fans eyes, Macheda has had copious amounts of opportunity to show what he’s got in his locker for the first team, and has failed in his plight to become a United player.  “Show him the door” is a cry you’ll hear from many.

For me, I firmly disagree that he’s been given the chance to prove himself, or to be nurtured in to someone who’s anywhere near ready.

He may get ten minutes in a Premier League game, then not be in contention for another six or seven matches, where he might get another 20 minutes of game time.  For some reason, we expect Macheda to be sharp, match ready, and to fit straight in to a side that he isn’t’ used to playing in, each and every time this happens.

We, as supporters, would give Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Paul Scholes et all the benefit of the doubt if they were to be thrust in to the side after a five game absence or more.  A bit of time to bed themselves back in….it’ll be right.

But not a kid who barely plays?  Surely, we’ve got our thinking the round way round here?

There was a time where we’d do our bit in nurturing our kids in to the first team… patience, encouragement and support from the terraces.  But it doesn’t seem to be the way with Macheda.

He wouldn’t even get served a Jagerbomb in America!

With Kiko making his debut three years ago, it’s easy to forget that the lad is only 20 years old.  It’s rare that the football world gets a true wonder kid such as a Cristiano Ronaldo,  or a Wayne Rooney who has it all from a very young age.

We’ve been spoiled down the years at Old Trafford with players such those mentioned who we bought, and the class of ’92 who were ‘our own’.  But not all our youngsters are ready when they’re so young, and we’d be good to remember that with Macheda…especially when in another breath we’re wanting Pogba to stay and take his time before he’ll make the first team, and telling Morrison that he needs to be patient and his time will come.

Something else which doesn’t help is the fact that the gulf between reserve team football and first team football is so vast these days, it has a big bearing on Macheda’s and any young player’s development.  The youngsters don’t rub shoulders with the first team as much in the Premier League reserve team as they did in the Central League (if you remember that).  The best our lads can hope for is maybe getting five or six chances to play with a few first teamers in the Carling Cup.

But I believe that mish-mashing a team together that isn’t used to playing with each other actually makes it harder for a player to be bled in to the Manchester United way.  Remember the Carling Cup tie at West Ham last season?

Macheda often gets the nod for the Carling Cup games, but casting aside the mish-mash selection for a minute, as a twenty year old front man he has been picked up top on his own (if you think about it, none of our strikers play well in a 4-5-1 as a rule) and then we can stick him out on the left wing in a position he’s totally not cut out for.  Remember Welbeck when he was pitched out on the left before his season at Sunderland?  It wasn’t really for him, was it?

Let’s not get confused again in thinking we’re giving the lad a chance just by giving him some game time.  A fair chance doesn’t always come Macheda’s way.

The Loan Ranger

With the Italian needing a regular chance to step up to a first team level, we’ve loaned him out in two successive seasons.

We need to remember, out of all the players we’ve loaned out, only Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have had decent loan spells, and come back ready for the first team since David Beckham went to Preston in the 90s.

We’ve sent Macheda out on, what are for me, ludicrous loans.

Sampdoria, in Italy.  Last year he went to join a poor side, struggling in their division, and he got 14 games.  Back home, we were measuring him on how many goals he put away, and in the league he didn’t bag any.  Some reds saw a small number of those games, and realised that he was one of the best players in a naff side, but by not hitting the net he was considered a flop.

Had he have been getting outings for a better side, where he’s in there with better players around him, who knows what the goal tally may have been.

And how can he possibly be ready for the United side when we send him to play Italian football, which is a different kettle of fish from the English game?

Then of course, we’ve shipped him out to QPR until the end of this season.  Again, a struggling team, but here they have NINE other strikers!

QPR will snap up any newbie forward as they snatch and grab at any quick fix to put the ball in the net.  So far, six league appearances, four of those as sub, in a team fighting relegation…where on earth is the benefit for Macheda, or us, in this?

It’s good to mention here that Johnny Evans went to a not-so-impressive-at-the-time Sunderland on loan but has been hit and miss ever since (like Macheda).  But taking Evans as an example, this year he’s doing what he’s always done…played brilliantly when he’s had a good, consistent run in the side. Kiko hasn’t had that luxury yet.

All in all, I really think that Macheda has had an unfair ride from some.  We’ve not really looked at the bigger picture when we lay all the blame for him not being a world beating, 30 goal a season striker, three years after making his United debut at his door.

We haven’t helped him, the club haven’t helped him, and since that wonder/naive goal that he scored three years ago today, his career has been thrown all over the place. Not by his making.

I really hope that we can give Macheda some time to grow, mature and give him his real chance at United, in the same way we did Darren Fletcher all those years ago when many wrote him off due to the level of expectation centred around him.

Macheda is eager and keen when he does play, and maybe he should be rewarded more accordingly.

What do you think about Federico Macheda? Let’s hear your comments below…

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