by David Yaffe-Bellany
In many ways, this goal is quintessential Manchester United. The youth of the scorer, the lateness of the hour and the nature of the comeback all emblematic of United under Ferguson’s stewardship. Aspects of a period of success, tied neatly together in one moment of startling poignancy.
The setting was, fittingly, Old Trafford. Devoid of luck, United welcomed Aston Villa with the wounds of Liverpool’s annihilation three weeks prior still fresh, still burning.
In second place, United needed a win to return to the summit; their seemingly impenetrable seven point advantage sliced to ribbons by two consecutive defeats.
In retrospect, it is bizarre that the 2008/09 incarnation of Manchester United ever struggled to regain their crown – reigning European and world champions, blessed with the talents of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, their greatest challengers were Liverpool, a team that a year later would find themselves struggling to qualify for European competition.
Nevertheless, there they were on April 6th, 2009 – the dream of an eighteenth league triumph slipping further and further away. Brief hope was kindled early in the first half, when a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick flew into the top corner; the type of goal only he could score, of a sparkling variety that sadly has been rarely replicated in English football since his big money departure.
After losing 4-1 to Liverpool, this United side had acquired somewhat of a penchant for self destruction – a trait no better illustrated than by the events of the next hour. First, John Carew rose elegantly to nod in a Gareth Barry cross before, fifteen minutes after the interval, Gabriel Agbonlahor headed home from close range. 1-2.
I remember vividly sitting in my basement, the memory of premature victory celebrations after Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough fast taking on a sort of karmic significance. Chants of “beat someone, beat someone” echoed across Old Trafford; as for me, I was too stunned to say anything.
My anxious, twelve year old mind was inexperienced in dealing with United’s love of brinkmanship. Against Bayern in ’99 I had watched in a cursory manner, not consciously aware of goings on, reportedly more interested in the little dog twoing and froing across the house. My grandmother’s celebratory phone call, quickly stymied by pleas of ignorance, was made minutes before I popped in the cassette tape to take in Moscow ’08, and shielded me from tension’s unyielding grip when John Terry stepped forward to take his spot kick.
But now there was no protection. Martin Tyler’s melodious commentary made up for the articulacy that had deserted me, his summations of United’s position in the standings, quite dreary.
On eighty minutes, some sanity prevailed. Taking matters into his own hands, Ronaldo thrashed a low shot towards goal, where, somehow, it trickled by the goalkeeper’s despairing lunge. I remember seeing the seventeen year old Italian lad who had come on twenty minutes previously slap Ronny furiously across the chest in celebration. The guy’s got spunk, I thought.
As the game drew towards it’s latter stages, the prospect of a draw became increasingly attractive. When Fergie threw on another teenage forward 87 minutes in, I yelled some not very complimentary things at the television. And then, the moment which defines this article: My Favourite Goal.
Forever the forgotten architect of some of United’s landmark moments, it was Ryan Giggs who played the pass. Less than a year later, from a similar spot on the pitch, he would caress an equally vital ball through to Michael Owen. Needless to say, such symmetry could not be appreciated at the time of Macheda’s strike – Owen was battling relegation at Newcastle.
Standing readied on the edge of the box, one hand outstretched, the other prepared to hold off the attention of Luke Young, Macheda received the ball and turned. Right footed, falling to the ground, he unleashed a curling effort that softly glided into the net. Martin Tyler let out a shrill cry, his voice reaching previously uncharted altitudes. Machedaaaaaa!
Mobbed by teammates, Macheda staggered over to the nearest stand and – pushing past police officers – flung himself into the arms of his crying father. The beauty of the moment, untainted by a subsequent booking, will never leave me.
Two years after winning the adoration of millions, Federico Macheda’s career has taken a turn for the worse. Relegated with Sampdoria, his future at United is anything but safe. However, even if the winner against Villa remains his greatest goal, the man called “Kiko” will forever find comfort in that one moment. The one moment, in my eyes at least, which ensures his immortality.