Kiko Macheda – Instant Stretford End hero
Posted by nickogs20 on April 5, 2009
12 months ago to the day, Federico Macheda was scoring the opener in a 1-1 draw for United’s Under-18s in the illustrious surroundings of Sheffield United’s Shirecliffe academy complex. A year on, in front of over 75,000 fans at Old Trafford, the 17 year-old Roman has just lived every Red’s dream.
The script really couldn’t have been any better if a team of Oscar-winning writers had penned it. United, desperately needing a win to get out of an alarming slump and retake top spot from bitter rivals Liverpool, trail Aston Villa by two goals to one after an hour. Macheda – not even meant to be in the country this weekend after recieving a call-up to Italy’s Under-19 squad, but kept behind to take his place on the United bench – is summoned by Sir Alex Ferguson and sent on in place of Nani.
Full of confidence after a terrific hattrick against Newcastle last Monday for the Reserves, Kiko brushed aside a couple of nervy early touches to make a significant difference to the Reds’ attack, putting himself about, holding the ball up and linking play cleverly. Then, after Cristiano Ronaldo had hauled United level and as the game entered the third minute of stoppage time, a moment that I’m sure we’ve all imagined many a time…. receiving a pass from Ryan Giggs with his back to goal, Kiko took Luke Young out of the game with a sublime turn before sending a sensational curling finish past the despairing dive of Brad Friedel and into the far corner of the Stretford End goal, earning the Reds three oh-so-precious points and sending Old Trafford into raptures.
The 17 year-old made a beeline for his family (farcically getting booked for the crime of celebrating a debut goal with his father), and was understandably elated when, as Man of the Match (but too young to receive the customary bottle of bubbly), he spoke to Sky Sports afterwards:
“I think this is the day of my dreams. It was my dream to have my debut and to score a goal like that. I very much enjoyed it. (Sir Alex) said just play simple as you know. Just go out and play. I run to my dad and my family and I went to them and they were celebrating too”.
Kiko joined United from his hometown club Lazio in September 2007, very much against the Rome club’s will, and made an instant impact for the academy, scoring on debut against Barnsley and forming a formidable strike partnership with Danny Welbeck at that level. He ended the season with 12 goals in 21 academy games, and made the step up to reserve level before the end of the campaign, scoring two in four (including one in his first start).
It was immediately obvious that the young Italian had a real eye for goal and impressive technique, but there were plenty of rough edges to his game. The work that ‘Kiko’ has put it to improve his game has been phenomenal this season though, and he’s matured as an all-round centre-forward to the point where it’s hard to pinpoint any obvious weaknesses.
Today’s cameo encapsulated what Kiko is all about. Once the early nerves were out of the way, his full range of attributes was in evidence – a Premier League-ready physique, vastly improved movement and workrate, intelligence both in finding space and using the ball, the ability to bring others into the game and terrific composure and technique in front of goal.
Comparisons to existing/previous players are always tricky, but the boy is the best finisher we’ve had at the club since Ruud van Nistelrooy’s departure, while possessing ability more in keeping with someone like Dimitar Berbatov (note – he’s obviously got a long way to go to reach the level of those two!). This makes it hard to pin him down as a particular type of forward – he’s equally happy leading the line as a poacher or dropping deep/wide and linking the play.
There’s plenty more to come from Kiko, and one area in need of improvement is his temperament (petulance has brought a red card and a couple of other close shaves already this season), but the progress he’s made this season has been terrific and you can’t help but be impressed by the way he stepped up to senior level this afternoon.
He’s got a combined tally of 18 goals in 32 games at reserve and academy level this season, and now one priceless first team strike that could well be the most important he ever scores.