The beginning of each new Premier League season brings with it a wealth of giddy, schoolboy like expectation. Each New Year arrives with a fresh basket of exciting fruit, stuffed with expensive looking foreign meat and some lush looking, freshly baked English muffins. The prospect of imagining what new things we’ll be treated to, which new players will burgeon, which stars will shine and what new narratives will be crammed into the already fit to burst book of English football is one of the great pleasures of the late summer.
At the beginning of this season, like most, I’d warmed myself up by watching pre-season friendlies. These almost never tell you anything, especially if you’re watching Manchester United vs. the Hong Kong Fire Department and Engineering Services Select XI, yet they’re always a good way of getting settled back into the mood and reacquainting you with the game you’ve been so cruelly deprived of for two months, especially during a non-International tournament summer.
Back in 2004, my father subscribed to the magnificently pointless MUTV channel, purely as a means of betting on a pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon. Nothing pleases him more than elevating the excitement of a drab and unimportant game by spread betting on the likely amount of throw ins or how many gratuitous shots of players spitting will appear, and since then, the channel has remained subscribed to in my childhood home. As it happened, this game turned out to be the birth of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, and since then, I’ve often popped back to indulge myself in some pre-proper football football, mainly in the hope of witnessing another starburst of mega proportions, and to get a head start in the “Whose Hot and Whose Not?” department, in both form and new haircuts.
The lasting impression I got from watching United battle it out valiantly with semi amateur Koreans this year, was that Federico Macheda was going to have a big impact on this season. Having made his big splash the previous year in dramatic style, he seemed ready for a real push at the big time this. He started a surprisingly large amount of the games, scoring in the process, which I deduced must be important somehow, as I was under the impression this United pre-season would be mainly geared towards gelling the partnerships of Mark Strong, Wayne Rooney and Scouse McCrock.
During the back end of last season, I’d became convinced that Macheda was not in fact an amazing prodigy, but merely a decent player with a bit of luck and a massive, oversized beefy frame for his age. Danny Welbeck had looked like the more talented of the prodigious strikers, Beef McChiseltooth merely the one who’d grabbed his chance. However it struck me, watching him tear apart the might of amateur Asian defenses, that I may be watching the progress of a genuinely exciting player. Christian Vieri Mark II perhaps, but hopefully without the injuries, inflated sense of self worth and rapid decline.
More to the point it struck me that if Swarthy St Broadhead was English, his use, and success in Asia would have been heralded as the greatest thing since sliced bread met churned cows milk. Michael Owen’s scoring exploits pre-season had hit the headlines back home in gloriously over exaggerated fashion – and for obvious reasons – and Owen was also 17 when he first broke through, not yet able to wreck hotel rooms and terrorize Terry Wogan should he so wish. He was also a diddily squat of a thing whereas Super-Mach was all man and, as such, looked likely be a more potent prospect.
As the team returned to start the season proper, Sir Alex Ferguson loaned out Welbeck, and retained Macheda, more evidence I thought, that the big man in charge thought the young Italian was ready.
But alas, I was wrong. Macheda has made little or no impact on this season at all. However it must be remembered that he has been injured for the majority of it, and has only just returned to match fitness, just in time to bicep in a consolation goal against Chelsea. With the inevitable crocking of Michael Owen, and the general uselessness of Dimitar Berbatov, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that Hench McLargio would’ve played a much bigger role this year if he’d been fit. And with Wayne Rooney struggling with his unreliable feet, would’ve been an excellent reserve to call on had he himself not been working his way back from injury.
If United don’t spend big on a striker this summer, as Ferguson’s recent comments on his rejection of David Villa shows evidence of, then next season could well be the one K-Mach finally shines in. This is a player, after all, who rose through all levels of United’s youth system in one season, to then go and grab the winner on his first start for the senior team. He is also exactly the kind of player who would work with Rooney. Wayne has always been best when operating alongside a predatory partner, or failing that, by himself. His link up Ruud Van Nistelrooy was exemplary, as it was with Louis Saha. Even his sacrificial berth on the wings to accommodate his partnership with Ronaldo worked a treat over all. The Berbatov experiment doesn’t seem to have paid off, but could the Macheda experiment succeed where that didn’t? He may not be as lethal as the deadly Dutchman, but few were, and at least he spends a lot of his time in the box, something Berbatov seems to struggle with the concept of.
He’s still only 18, and as such far too young to be lumped with the same kind of pressure his Bulgarian team mate has been, but I do feel that with rumors of United’s spending problems, and the way in which Ferguson has talked up this youngster, we could be on the threshold of seeing the start proper, of an exciting new talent.
At any rate, I’ll be tuning into MUTV this summer to see if it will give any indication of the plans in store for him. And failing that, I might just have a bet or two.