Rossi's future is all mapped out

Villarreal's former United striker is a rare talent with a remarkable sense of destiny, writes Gabriele Marcotti.

Guiseppe Rossi scored the winning goal for Manchester United on his debut. It was a feat to be emulated by his countryman Federico Macheda four seasons later.
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Last Sunday, several hours after the Italian teenager Federico Macheda scored the winning goal on his Premier League debut for Manchester United, Giuseppe Rossi, the Villarreal striker, received a text from a friend, asking if he'd heard the news. "I know. Great goal. But he's not the first Italian teenager to score for United on his Premier League debut."

Rossi would know. Because, of course, Macheda was only following in Rossi's own footsteps. On Oct 15 2005, he made his Premier League debut and scored in a 3-1 win over Sunderland (though, to be fair, he had appeared for the club in three cup games). And yet that text was vintage Rossi. Few players are as single-minded as he is, few young men have been so focused on their craft from a young age, few footballers are as aware of the game, themselves and what goes on about them.

Then again, this is a boy who grew up knowing where he wanted to go and how he was going to get there. He was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, a goal-kick away from Manhattan, but, perhaps precisely because he was raised in a place where football is an after-thought, he made it his life's work from the time he could walk. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a football coach who made sure young Giuseppe would get every possible chance to succeed, even in the footballing wilderness that was the United States in the late 1980s. The Rossi home was replete with videos of Serie A, posters of European players and, most of all, lots of football talk.

Everything was geared towards going back across the ocean and getting a crack at the big time. Which is exactly what happened. Nine years ago, at the age of 13, Rossi moved back with his family to Italy and he joined Parma's academy. Three years later came the next logical step: moving to Manchester United. It was a controversial switch - United employed the same loophole they would use to secure Macheda three years later - but one which, the Rossis felt, had to be made.

At Old Trafford he received lots of praise, but little playing time, so he went on loan, first to Newcastle, then back to Parma (where his nine goals in 19 games helped the club avoid relegation). The big jump came in the summer of 2007, when Villarreal offered United US$13 million (Dh47.7m). Sir Alex was unsure, but ultimately pulled the trigger: you couldn't turn down that kind of money, not for a 20-year-old, however talented (though he did insert a clause giving United right-of-first-refusal should Villarreal ever sell him).

Rossi saw it as the next step in his footballing education: Italy, England and now Spain. He scored 11 Liga goals in his first season, this year he's at 12, with two months to go. Not a bad return for a boy who, by his own admission, is "still learning". Especially since, in the meantime, he won his first caps for Italy, thereby breaking the hearts of US Soccer Federation officials, who were hoping to persuade him to represent the Stars and Stripes.

Now, he leads the line for Villarreal, up to fourth in La Liga and in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Some marvel at his achievements. Not Rossi. "I'm on schedule in terms of where I want to be," is the most he'll say. Which makes sense, given that all this was mapped out years ago in a suburban lawn in Teaneck.