“Over here,” he said, with the face of a man caught between excitement and annoyance. “Sealed in plastic, and sealed from the world, behold …” he trailed off, not realising that I stood a great distance from where he was. I was scared — and for good reason, too, I’d later find — and in all my years of journalism, with all the calls I’ve received to check something out, this was the one I was most suspicious about. He didn’t say much over the phone, which I was used to, but having met face-to-face and followed him into the house — his house, I think — into a small room, I guess I expected him to elaborate sooner. He was standing over a box. “What’s inside?” I asked, though part of me didn’t want to know. He didn’t look up but said, coolly: “Spider-Man.” It occurred to me why he was so annoyed now. He seemed unsure as to whether he wanted me to see the box’s contents, probably thinking about keeping it to himself.
I later found out that the house used to belong to an employee of Marvel Comics, someone, we’ll call him ‘Ervine’, that was employed young, and worked fairly well — too well — that, as a former colleague of his told me, “should have been fired sooner.” He tells me that “he became of little use, but they didn’t think it right having been a key part of some of their best years.” Ervine was in possession of some Spider-Man comics — fine, except fans have never known about it. It imagines Peter Parker in his forties. Exhausted, unfit and recently divorced by Mary Jane, it charts Spidey’s descent into the real world; he holds a desk post doing work for the government, and is paid a disproportionate salary as a way of thanks by the taxpayer. His days of vigilantism and photography are over. It dawned on me, after its tragic fifth issue (in all senses of the word), that this was the writers’ critique of the real world, that, however you dress it up, heroes aren’t heroes forever.
– From an extract of a report from The Daily Frugal. All of this turned out to be false, of course (except the bit about heroes), with apologies duly given out to Marvel Comics and anyone called Ervine that may be employed by Marvel Comics.
When Federico Macheda scored the winning goal against Aston Villa as the debutant that would help propel Manchester United to another title, a lot more than 19 appearances in over four seasons was promised. That winning goal, making it 3-2 when defeat not long before was very possible, should have done more for him than it has. Or, indeed, the following week when Macheda made yet another cameo from the bench when United went to Sunderland — and secured three more points. Again, a lot more than two failed loan spells at Sampdoria and Queens Park Rangers was promised.
What’s come of his early promise is the annual busy pre-season where he is able to repeat his Villa moment against far-away teams whose fans tend to be conflicted on who to root for, and further appearances in the domestic cups, where, recently, he has played a few games on the flanks. It has felt, at times, as if Macheda’s United career has been unnecessarily prolonged — see the part about trying to make him a winger! — and that he’s been entitled to call himself a player of the club for those old acts of heroism alone.
It’s not that Macheda is a bad player. He clearly isn’t. And he is only 21. But what this loan move suggests is that he is still a part of United’s plans. Which sounds nice, except it appears that these plans don’t go beyond the quarter final of the Capital One Cup, where he might be benched if he’s lucky. There’s far too much competition in one position and not enough lower-league sides to play against to cater for him, or allow him to develop his game. The reality has been staring in Macheda’s face for a while. Releasing Michael Owen would not have changed much for him, nor would the transfer of Dimitar Berbatov, especially as that happened after the signing of Robin van Persie, and he’d continue to be nothing more than a rotation player used sparingly for when the other rotation players couldn’t act as the rotation player. The reality is that Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez are all better players than him. Of course, though: how could Macheda possibly convince even one fan out of 70,000 that he is? (Not that United fans feel aggrieved about his lack of games, that’s reserved for Berbatov or Hernandez.)
Macheda needs a change of scenery — oh, and games this time — and then probably for VfB Stuttgart, or indeed another club, to move for him on a permanent basis. Stuttgart are a better side than both Sampdoria and QPR: though it’s difficult to tell whether that’s a good thing for Macheda, who struggled for goals and games in either loan spell (though injury cut the former short). The Italian could at least be heartened by the last two out-of-favour United players to leave for Germany, Ron-Robert Zieler and Mame Biram Diouf, both of Hannover 96.
Zieler went to 2012’s European Championships with Germany, while Diouf, as readers of Bundesliga Fanatic know, boasts a very good scoring record. Perhaps Diouf knew he was never going to succeed at United, not when there were plenty others considered superior, but has recently shown why United, and others, were so interested in him in the first place. Macheda will want to do similar.
“He is young, hungry and fits well with the VfB,” says Fredi Bobic, the club’s sports director. “He comes from a top club where he has shown what he can do. Now we want to integrate him into the team as quickly as possible.” This sounds promising; what Stuttgart will get from Macheda is a player that knows where the ball falls, not unlike United team-mate Hernandez, and knows where to put the ball. He has considerable pace, can link up play and is aware, clever with the ball when he wants to be (really, you only have to look back to his first ever senior goal to see that).
He can be a poacher if that’s what Stuttgart want him to be. But Macheda is not unique. Not yet, not one that stands out alongside other strikers. Some claim he hasn’t convinced for United and that can be even if you have a small scope; but that can be countered by pretty much the same people who don’t doubt that he can improve and evolve. But, as it stands, the idea of United losing Macheda permanently — “I would … be happy to stay longer. Who knows what might happen? — is not one that worries many; it’s now up to him to change that.
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Zac writes for the excellent Manchester United blog manutd24.co.uk, please take a look at his work there as well!
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