Marcus Rashford’s flying start to his Manchester United career has made headlines but also prompted words of caution from many football fans.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder, a product of United’s famed academy, hit two goals on his surprise debut in the Europa League tie against Danish side Mydjaelland and followed up with another brace as United beat title hopefuls Arsenal 3-2 just three days later.
The media are already hyping him as one of Europe’s brightest young talents alongside the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mahmoud Dahoud, Alessio Romagnoli, Daniel Rugani, Paul Pogba and Harry Kane.
But Rashford, and those advising him, would do well to remember the story of another Old Trafford prospect.
In April 2009, a little-known Italian named Federico Macheda made his debut for United against Aston Villa, coming on for Nani after 60 minutes.
‘The new Ronaldo’
The 17-year-old had his shooting boots on that day, and his curling effort in the dying seconds of the match secured all three points for the hosts. The goal itself was poetry in motion.
“Macheda is simply no longer on the radar of most football fans”
A new star had seemingly been born, with many Red Devils fans proclaiming they had the new Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks.
Fast forward six years, and Macheda is now at Cardiff City, who signed him on a free transfer after his release by United in 2014.
He never lived up to the early promise of that dazzling Old Trafford debut and was loaned out to various clubs including QPR, Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City.
An unused substitute in the Bluebirds’ recent win over Preston North End, Macheda is simply no longer on the radar of most football fans.
So where did it go wrong for the player known as ‘Kiko’?
He certainly had the talent, and then was given his chance to shine alongside team-mates such as Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Patrice Evra.
And, of course, the man who trusted in him to make the most of that opportunity was legendary former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
In footballing terms, Macheda was blessed with electric pace, outstanding shooting ability and trickery on the ball, all capped off with the smart presence of Ronaldo who, six years his senior, he looked up to on and off the pitch.
But he didn’t seize his chance, nor realise the luck that was surrounding him at the time.
From Ronaldo he only seemed to be willing to copy the looks, the cars and the success with women – not the hard graft, dedication, self-belief and ambition of the Portuguese.
Macheda appeared to start believing the hype surrounding him after his burst onto the scene and did not keep working hard enough.
“For ‘Kiko’ Macheda, meanwhile, there will always be an acute sense of what might have been”
And while Ronaldo soon left for Real Madrid and the Bernabéu, his protege eventually ended up at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium.
He also had loan spells at more prestigious clubs including Sampdoria and VfB Stuttgart, but never did enough to impress, always heading back to Manchester where his future looked increasingly less bright.
Perhaps you’d expect Macheda to at least make the difference in Wales? Well don’t because his appearances in manager Russell Slade’s Cardiff starting XI are sporadic.
How would his career have turned out if he hadn’t he beaten Brad Friedel with that strike in April 2009? Would he have been given the time to mature? Would he have fared better away from the spotlight?
“If he starts thinking ‘job done’, he will go down the same road as Macheda and be languishing at a lesser club before long”
Nobody will ever know. Perhaps when you grace your debut with a stunning winner and are embraced by Cristiano Ronaldo in front of 60,000 adoring fans, it’s hard not to believe you’ve already made it.
Time will tell whether Manchester-born Rashford has the strength of character to go with his talent, and if he can avoid the many pitfalls that lay in wait for talented young footballers.
His manager Louis van Gaal said: “Youngsters often play well in the first match. The second is different. Marcus played well in both, so he is a special talent.”
For ‘Kiko’ Macheda, meanwhile, there will always be an acute sense of what might have been.
He will turn 25 in August, and at this point a reversal of fortunes in his career seems unlikely. Seven years marked by backward steps have gone by since that never-to-be forgotten debut.
With the thrills sometimes come the spills, and Macheda’s rapid rise and fall should serve as a warning to Rashford.
Is his a Wayne Rooney-like career in the making or a Macheda-like one? It can go either way for Rashford. He is the GPS of his own destiny.
If he starts thinking ‘job done’, he will go down the same road as Macheda and be languishing at a lesser club before long.
What another waste of talent that would be. United fans will know better than to get ahead of themselves this time.
Image courtesy of Apasciuto courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons