Federico Macheda was in fine form when Greek football came to a stop last month. “My best season in my career with 10 games still to play,” he said. Two goals in his final game meant the Panathinaikos striker had eight in 11 as his team shook off their woeful early season form to rise from tenth to fourth. His goal in a win against champions and league leaders PAOK Salonica in February was key. “Actually, I scored against PAOK home and away,” he added. “And then football stopped and I’m in Athens with my wife and our son. The rest of my family are in Rome and I speak to them every day. It’s not easy when you don’t play ... we have little idea when we can go back.” Macheda is pushing himself, something his former Manchester United teammates said he should have done more when he was at Old Trafford. The Italian way! Our first scorer, Federico Macheda. #Panathinaikos #paofc2019_20 #seasonrewind pic.twitter.com/dVDlCea8PR — Panathinaikos F.C. (@paofc_) April 6, 2020 “They were right,” he said. “My mentality has changed a lot from when I was younger, the way I work, prepare and the way I am mentally. Everything has changed. I look after my body and my mind. Mindset is vital for football. I make plans, I have strategies, I have a stable life now off the field which is important. I’m pushing myself more and more and it’s working. I’m becoming the player I always wanted to be, an important footballer.” Macheda, 28, is the second top scorer in the country he’s called home since he moved to Athens from Novara in his native Italy in 2018. He and Bruno Fernandes are the only two players to have played for Novara and Manchester United. “Panathinaikos was the challenge I needed,” explained the man who was without a club before joining Novara in 2016. “Panathinaikos is a big club, the fans are very, very passionate. I’m from that background in Italy, a Lazio fan, a fan of the club with the most passionate fans in Italy. In Greece, they sing my name when I score. They’re singing it a lot, I’m consistent and confident I feel we’re improving as a team.” These were not hallmarks of a younger Macheda. When you are young you don’t understand many things and I regret how I was at United. It’s important I don’t repeat these mistakes to make up for what I lost when I was a kid Federico Macheda “When you are young you don’t understand many things and I regret how I was at United,” he said. “It’s important I don’t repeat these mistakes to make up for what I lost when I was a kid.” Macheda was itinerant and left Old Trafford in 2014. The last of his five goals for the club came in a Champions League dead rubber against Cluj in 2012. The Roman, who started out at Lazio, the club he supported before United, went on loan to Sampdoria, QPR, VfB Stuttgart, Doncaster Rovers, Birmingham City and then Cardiff City under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before a brief spell at Nottingham Forest and then Novara. “You don’t have time to settle when you are going on loan for six months,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but Novara helped, as has being settled in Athens. Panathinaikos treated me like I was an important player and you have to repay that on the pitch, which I have been doing.” Panathinaikos finished eighth in a 16-team league last season, a dreadful position for a club of such renown. La Liga off but there is light amid Spain’s coronavirus lockdown “We’re getting better now,” explained Macheda. “Winning, beating some the best teams. We have a young team, even the captain is younger than me. Players look up to me, I like this responsibility. We have a good group, they work hard and want to learn and I think we’ll be strong next season.” Sunday was the anniversary of a goal he’s fondly remembered by United fans for, a late, match-winning debut goal in a key Premier League game back when United won league titles. United 3 Aston Villa 2, April 5, 2009. Ronaldo 2, Macheda. “People see me as guy who scored one important goal but I don’t see me like that,” he said. “My name is marked by that goal and of course it was a great moment. My friends in Italy were calling me crying, my life changed overnight and I was playing with Ronaldo and Rooney under Alex Ferguson, but I’m motivated to do more. “I had so many ups and downs, now I want to make more big memories and I’m sure I can do this again in the biggest leagues in the future.” From Manchester United to Zaragoza: Shinji Kagawa – the rise and fall of ‘one of the best players in the world’ Macheda only keeps in touch with Nani from his former United teammates, “but I’m pleased my old manager Ole Gunnar is doing well. He was in charge of United’s reserves and helped me a lot. Then he took me to Cardiff on a permanent deal. He paid special attention to strikers, he coached us after training, getting us to do extra finishing and encouraging us to score the scruffy goals too. At United he’ll look after the strikers, the young players and the old players.” Macheda’s star burned brightly and quickly, but, 11 years on from that goal, he feels he’s a better player and a better person.