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Two sides to every story

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - To say that the career of Manchester United's Federico Macheda has started well would be a bit of an understatement.

After all, the 17-year-old phenom has made two appearances for one of the biggest clubs in the world, and all he has done is score two game-winning goals in the span of one week.

And these are not just any game-winning goals, but goals that could very well make the difference in United claiming its 18th league title, which would tie them with Liverpool for the most in England.

In short, Macheda has already etched his name into United folklore, and he still has a few games left to play in his promising career.

But this is not your average over-the-top, feel-good story ripped straight from the pages of a Hollywood script.

No, there is another very different angle to this fairytale.

This part of the story begins in Rome where Macheda grew up playing in the youth system of his hometown team, Lazio.

Federico Macheda has scored two game-winning goals in the span of one week.
He was already being touted as a future star by the age of 16, but Lazio was not the only club that knew this.

United's vast scouting network was also in on the secret, and the English giants offered Macheda and his family a chance to move to Manchester and sign a professional contract, something that would alleviate their financial troubles.

Of course, the youngster and his family jumped at the opportunity, and after making the move to England at 16, Macheda inked a professional contract with Manchester United on his 17th birthday, and has subsequently shot his way up through the ranks.

Macheda was a standout on the under-18 squad before becoming a regular with the reserve team.

In fact, it was just six days before he scored his stunning goal against Aston Villa in his debut that Macheda recorded a hat trick for the reserves against Newcastle.

This development, along with the fact that regular starters Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney were sitting out due to injury and suspension, respectively, prompted United boss Sir Alex Ferguson to call up the youngster.

Now, with Macheda flourishing and his former club sitting in ninth place in the Serie A table, Lazio president Claudio Lotito has been venting quite a bit of frustration over the whole ordeal.

"It's unthinkable that a lad of 15 can be bought as if it was a cattle market," Lotito told Italy's Sky television about Macheda's move to United. "Normally these boys are not from wealthy families and they look for alternatives in foreign countries for economic reasons.

"We knew that he was a great player, we did everything to keep him. We could not compete with United's offer. That is not right. We have to be provided with more reliable and concrete rules than those which govern Italian clubs.

"Our sporting director at the time tried to stop Macheda from leaving. However, the law in place at the moment, which means we cannot sign a player who is under 18, is shameful.

"They [Manchester United] took him using wrong methods without any ethical codes."

Lotito's anger is justified, because Lazio is basically playing under a different set of rules then English clubs, who are allowed to sign players at the age of 16, while Italian teams must wait until the players are 18.

FIFA, which is soccer's governing body, has expressed a desire to protect under-18 players from leaving their local clubs at an early age, but employment laws have complicated the matter, leaving Lazio without a promising young striker.

This situation is similar to the one involving Giuseppe Rossi, whom United signed at 17 from Parma's youth system before selling him to Villarreal.

While it is ironic that Lotito is the one who is giving lectures on ethics, considering that he was recently convicted of market rigging and obstructing Italy's stock market regulator in connection with his acquisition of Lazio, it is also hard to dispute his claim.

For a team to bring up a player through its youth system only to watch another club swoop in and sign him away while its hands are tied clearly illustrates a flawed system.

Imagine if Major League Baseball allowed National League teams to sign Latin American prospects at age 15, while American League teams were unable to secure their services until the players were 17.

At the same time, it is hard to criticize United when they are operating within the guidelines of their own rules.

It may be unfair to Lazio to lose a player that way, but if United didn't sign Macheda, who's to say that one of the team's rivals like Chelsea or Liverpool wouldn't have?

Passing on Macheda because it was the right thing to do ethically would have been a bad business decision, and United is not one of the most successful clubs in the world because of their moral code.

Lazio has every reason to be upset with the current situation, but until the rules are addressed in Italy, English teams cannot be blamed for taking advantage.

There are definitely two sides to this story, it just depends on which side you are on.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
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