Macheda eager to prove worth after 'tough time' in Italy
Nothing sums up Federico Macheda's self-confidence and belief in his star status quite like the Facebook picture (below) which preceded his explosion onto the scene as a 17-year-old goalscoring prodigy at Manchester United.
Bearing in mind that the Italian had never strayed further than United's reserve team prior to his injury-time winner against Aston Villa in April 2009, his status picture showing him surrounded by a collection of glamorous blondes in a nightclub suggested he was more than happy to position himself as the modern-day successor to the likes of George Best, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham as United's poster boy.
Two years on, however, Macheda remains a teenager with a bright future, but the boy believes he is becoming a man.
He still looks flash and swaggers like a man with 100 Premier League goals to his name rather than four, but he has taken his place on United's tour of the United States with his confidence dented by a disastrous loan spell at Sampdoria last season.
Hounded by supporters as the club were relegated from Serie A, Macheda did little to impress during his goalless six months in Genoa.
Sampdoria had concerns over Macheda's attitude and work ethic, issues which have surfaced from time to time at United, but Macheda insists that spending time in Italy has sharpened his focus to grasp his opportunity at United.
"The six months away from United has made me grow up a lot." Macheda said. "So in that way, going to Sampdoria was good. It was a bad spell. I had a tough time, but sometimes a bad experience like that can make you a better man and a better player.
"I couldn't really go out of my house in the six months I was there, because there was always the chance you'd end up fighting with the fans because they were angry with us.
"But when you leave United to go to another team, you can see the difference. When you come back, like I have, you have a better focus and can see things a lot more clearly, with another mentality."
Macheda made an impressive return to United by scoring twice as a substitute in the 4-1 victory against New England Revolution in Boston last week.
Yet with Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez secure as Alex Ferguson's first-choice strike pairing, and Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen both ahead of Macheda in the pecking order, the youngster could yet be battling with Danny Welbeck simply to earn a place on the substitutes' bench.
The emergence of Hernandez has done most to cloud Macheda's future. As Macheda struggled, Hernandez scored 20 goals in his first season at United.
Macheda insists he can use Hernandez as an inspiration rather than view the Mexican as a barrier to his own success, however.
"It's good to have a player like 'Chicharito' in your squad," Macheda said. "He has been fantastic for United and I'm really happy for him, because he's a great guy and a fantastic player.
"It's good to have a player like that in front of you because you can learn from them every day and get better."
Injuries and loss of form have checked Macheda's progress since his dramatic entry into the spotlight with goals against Aston Villa and Sunderland in consecutive fixtures which proved crucial as United went on to win the 2008-09 title.
But he insists that, at 19, he should be left to develop and realise his potential without being burdened by memories of his incredible arrival.
"I have always had my feet on the ground, but my debut was fantastic and it's not easy to have a debut like that," he said. "I was only 17 at the time. I was a young boy then, as I am now. But sometimes, when you have a debut like mine, people expect you to score fantastic goals in every game, which is not easy.
"I'm happy with what I've done for United in the past, but now I'm back, I want to do more. I haven't spoken with the boss (Ferguson) yet, but I want to stay. Even though there is a lot of competition for places, I know I will take my chance when I am given it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)