Macheda impact no surprise to Lazio

Wayne Rooney must have smiled to himself when the world's media clamoured to find out more about Federico Macheda after the Italian teenager's exquisite late winner for Manchester United against Aston Villa on Sunday.

In 2002, five days before his 17th birthday, Rooney curled home a similar goal for Everton to end Arsenal's 30-match unbeaten run and make him the Premier League's youngest scorer.

Outsiders rushed to discover more about him but he was already old news to everyone connected with Everton who had seen him excel for the youth and reserve teams.

Seven years on, Rooney is an established part of the Manchester United and England hierarchy while 17-year-old Macheda is setting out on a career that the man who discovered him predicts will also lead to big things.

"Federico was the jewel of the Lazio youth team and will end up becoming one of the finest strikers in Europe," Volfango Patarca, a scout at the Rome club, told British newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

Just as Rooney's departure from Everton caused anger and frustration at the club who developed him, Macheda's move from Lazio to United has left the Italians fuming.

United are widely reported to have paid a token amount of compensation to Lazio after the then 15-year-old Macheda joined them. Italian federation rules do not allow clubs to contract players under 16, leaving the Rome club powerless to counter United's offers.

United certainly knew what they were doing and Macheda immediately impressed with his youth team performances alongside Danny Welbeck, who has developed into a first-team player.


Under the shrewd guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he then became established in the reserves and last week Alex Ferguson dangled the carrot of a place on the bench against Villa if he performed well in a reserve game against Newcastle United.

A hat-trick later, and he was getting ready for the big time.

"It was a challenge for him and he goes and scores a hat-trick, which is him saying 'get me on that bench, quick'," Ferguson told reporters.

"To play under pressure in front of 76,000 is a big ask but I have seen him in training and at reserve-team games and how he handles certain situations.

"Young players get challenged at this club. It was a late goal but for one like that you would wait until the very last kick because it was so good."

Cristiano Ronaldo, who also made a dazzling United debut off the bench against Bolton Wanderers six years ago, said that the club offered the ideal environment for a talented youngster.

"I had very good support from the older players when I started here," he told reporters ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Porto. "I looked to them for help, just as Federico will.

"I would like the younger players to follow me for the same type of career. It is very important to behave properly and to be intelligent."

Macheda, likely to be on the bench on Tuesday, will also need to show plenty of patience, as first-team opportunities are likely to remain few and far between with Rooney, Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez vying for forward places.