Manchester United FC

Anatomy of a goal: Federico Macheda's injury time winner on his Man Utd debut

Mitchell Wilks
Apr 5, 2021, 6:30 PM GMT+1
The streets will never forget this one.
The streets will never forget this one. | ANDREW YATES/Getty Images

In the ever-improving yet increasingly complex game of football marred by money and statistics, it's those individual, standalone moments that remind us exactly why we love it.

Expected goal stats, the outrage at transfer fees and commercial priorities are all forgotten about when you've found yourself tumbling four rows down from your usual seat, hugging a man you've never met before in your life and living in the moment as your meat pie goes AWOL.

It's easy to look back on football - like anything - with rose-tinted spectacles and marvel on the halcyon days of 'the Barclays'. And while most of the time that rhetoric is admittedly rather tiresome and outplayed, there are a few moments that just grip you, right by that retro shirt that you spent too much money on.

Wayne Rooney, Paul Stalteri, Brede Hangeland
The sock tape, the football, the baggy kits - this is the Barclays | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

For Manchester United fans in particular, those moments have been key in keeping fans sane over the last several years. None more so than one particular goal in April 2009, which battles with WrestleMania 25 for the greatest sporting event of that calendar year.

Is there anything that Manchester United didn't have in those days? Three incredible kits, an attack of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov, and Sir Alex Ferguson on the hunt for league titles like they were his favourite chewing gum rapidly falling out of stock.

Having won the Premier League and Champions League in 2007/08, the Red Devils were on top of the world.

Despite only clinching the title on the last day of the 2007/08 season, there was an air of invincibility about this United side, who had quality all over the park. But having been beaten twice by Liverpool in the 2008/09 campaign - including a 4-1 thumping at Old Trafford - the race for the title that season was well and truly on between England's two biggest clubs.

Rafael Benitez, Sir Alex Ferguson
A feud that could've main evented the 2009 WrestleMania show... | Clive Mason/Getty Images

After losing 2-0 to Fulham on gameweek 30, United could not afford any more slip ups with Liverpool just a point behind them. And by Sunday 5 April, Rafa Benitez's men were top and United were 2-1 down at home to Aston Villa, with a third title in as many seasons slipping away.

Ferguson, not only a serial winner but a risk taker too, took a gamble on youth. On came a 17-year-old striker named Federico Macheda after 61 minutes, tasked with somehow stopping the Premier League title from heading down the M62.

With ten minutes to play, Ronaldo grabbed himself a second and levelled the game at 2-2. It still wasn't enough, but suddenly there was a belief coursing through the Theatre of Dreams and the momentum was entirely with the Red Devils, who were frantic in their pursuit for a winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo pulled United level | Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The young Italian had picked up a good position centrally as the game bled into the dying embers of injury time, and picked up the ball outside the box from Gary Neville. He was dispossessed, but the ball would only go as far as Ryan Giggs.

Macheda had, by this point, worked himself back into the 18-yard box and found the ball at his feet again facing away from goal. In what felt like slow motion, the teenager dragged it back, spinning Luke Young into oblivion and rifling the ball with his right foot and sending it straight into the top right-hand corner.

Out of nothing, United had won it. And for all their star power, it was a debuting Macheda who sent the Stretford End into an earthquake of cheers and reduced Martin Tyler to a helpless shriek, dragging the Premier League title back to Manchester in poetic fashion.

Macheda, the Italian born in Rome, had risen like Neptune to pull United ahead when even their strongest assets couldn't, before running off into a swarm to celebrate with the crowd, and embracing Ferguson on the touchline after providing a miracle.

Speaking to SPORTBible in 2020, Macheda confessed that he was 'on a different planet' after the goal went in.

"I was over the moon. I was not part of the first-team at the time so I was not aware how important that was for us. I was just over moon for myself because I couldn't believe it," he said.

While this game didn't directly see them over the line, it was undoubtedly Macheda's goal that effectively sealed United's third successive Premier League title as they returned to the top of the table and went unbeaten in their remaining eight league games.

The goal saw Macheda hyped up to the heavens and while it never quite worked out for him at football's elite level, United fans will never forget his iconic goal which has kept him etched into the club's history as a cult hero for eternity.