Any young Manchester United player dreams of scoring in their debut for the club but it’s an experience that few will ever encounter.
For the few that do achieve the feat, it presents an opportunity for them to be propelled to new heights and puts them under an intense spotlight.
While many will go on to become superstars, like Wayne Rooney following his maiden hat-trick, others cannot keep pace and quickly start to fade away.
For Federico Macheda, the rise and fall was quicker than many expected. Hailed as the next top striker at Old Trafford, it didn’t quite pan out that way – but what exactly happened to the Italian forward?
Signed from Lazio shortly after his 16th birthday, Machedaestablished himself as a goal machine in the youth ranks, finishing as the top-scorer with 12 goals in 21 appearances for the under-18 side in his debut campaign in English football.
The following year, having signed his first professional contract after turning 17, Macheda continued with the U18 ranks and made a few appearances for the reserves – where impressive performances earned him a first-team debut, propelling him into United folklore.
Introduced just after the hour mark on April 5th 2009, where United were losing 2-1 to Aston Villa, Cristiano Ronaldo equalised for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and the stage was set for Macheda.
In the third minute of injury time, the forward turned his marker and curled home from just inside of the penalty area to cap off his professional debut perfectly.
Against Sunderland in the league, it took just 46 seconds for Macheda to find the net after his introduction off the bench. Goals soon dried up that season for the forward but he had done enough to establish himself in the first-team squad.
The next year, during which Macheda penned a four-year contract, the forward would struggle with injury issues. For the following season, he returned to Italy to join Sampdoria on loan – which would be the first of six over the course of just three years.
Having suffered relegation in Serie A, Macheda returned to England and had limited opportunities at United before moving to QPR on loan in January – a stint that would last just a few months as injuries forced him to return to Old Trafford for treatment in March.
Those two loans offered an indication towards the trajectory of Macheda’s career, with brief stints on loan with Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City bringing an end to his career with Manchester United.
When the four-year deal he had signed as a breakthrough star expired in 2014, Cardiff City landed the striker on a free transfer – where he joined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had managed Macheda during his stint at the helm of United’s reserves.
The signs initially appeared promising, with Macheda netting a brace on his debut against Port Vale in the League Cup. Again though, it represented a false dawn and another swift loan spell would follow, as he joined Nottingham Forest in March 2015.
A year later, Macheda’s contract was terminated by mutual consent and he endured a few months without a club, before signing an 18-month deal with second-division Italian outfit Novara – where he would remain until the end of his deal in 2018.
Finally, Macheda’s next transfer provided some stability to the forward as he joined Greek outfit Panathinaikos on a three-year deal.
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Macheda is still plying his trade with the Greek outfit, penning a contract extension last year running until 2023, and has scored a total of 32 goals in 82 league appearances for the club.
That includes a return of eight goals this season in 23 matches, with Panathinaikos advancing to the play-off stages of the Greek Super League but sitting fourth, way adrift of runaway leaders Olympiakos.
Having not won the league since the 2009/10 season and with their last victory in the Greek Cup coming in 2013/14, Macheda will be hoping to propel Panathinaikos to success to add to the League Cup he won with Manchester United in 2009/10.