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Ones to Watch: French attacking midfielder Hannibal Mejbri has his sights on reaching the Manchester United first team

Manchester United signed Hannibal Mejbri during the summer of 2019 from AS Monaco in a deal that is reported to be worth £9 million with the Old Trafford club paying £4.7 million, the rest in add-ons. The France U17 international made his debut for United’s U18 team against Derby County back in September, a 5-1 defeat for United. The delay in him signing and playing was down to international clearance.

Before Coronavirus stopped would football, Mejbri had played 13 times for the U18s, also playing five times for the U23s this season. The 17-year-old has scored one goal for the U18s, the opening goal in a 2-1 victory over Manchester City, also assisting three more goals for the U18s, assisting another three at U23 level, not scoring there yet – although there is plenty of time for him to do so.

Mejbri has been capped for France U16s 12 times, scoring one goal and has risen to the U17s, playing three times, scoring twice. He is yet to be picked for the U18s as he will clearly be seeking to rise up the ranks for both club and country during his career. He comes highly-rated and has been picked on by opposition supporters with Leeds United fans chanting a profane ‘Sideshow Bob’ chant in a recent FA Youth Cup clash, which United won.

Mejbri played for Paris FC, before playing for Monaco and his former coach from the French capital, Reda Bekhti has praised the player’s talent and skill and tipped him for a big career. It is clear as to why United made the move for the talented teenager with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looking to entrust youth and keep United’s club DNA similar to the periods under both Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the club’s most successful managers. Speaking about Mejbri to Goal, Bekhti said:

“I believe he has what it takes to make it to the first team, I think he is on the right path. With humility, work, patience and the help of God, he will evolve in the first team. That’s something he greatly deserves.

“His football strengths are mainly based on his ability to see things before others. On a football field he has intelligence far above the average.

In addition to this, he has a lot of technical ability and is a modern midfielder who is capable of combining excellent recovery of the ball, fast transitioning and the ability to finish.

“From the earliest age he had the charisma and personality. He was already giving out instructions and he was often captain.”

Bekthi also drew comparison to Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, who is also French with the coach suggesting that Mejbri has a similar playing style, which is something that we might see in the Premier League in the years to come. Obviously, Mejbri has the belief that he can play for the first team and will be seeking to earn the chance to show just what he can do. Bekhti concluded by saying:

“Today when compared to a Premier League player, I see it as Matteo Guendouzi.

“Like Hannibal [Mejbri], he is French, from French training, and grew up in the Paris region.

“His playing style is similar to what Hannibal can do in the Premier League in the coming years.”

Mejbri has the ambition to play in the big leagues, and when he signed for United he suggested that he hoped to reach the first team in two years, which could see him playing alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes by the time he reaches the tender age of 18. This shows the confidence he has in himself, which some might mistake for arrogance but that is not a bad thing either.

United U18 head coach, Neil Ryan, the son of former United forward Jimmy Ryan, has given some good advice to the young Frenchman, saying; “He will get targeted by any opposition he plays and that is what he has to learn: how to channel and focus his energies and not to get caught up in that.” He will need to learn to keep his football answering his critics, not letting that red mist come over him and see the reactions that are not needed in the game.

United beat massive competition to sign Mejbri last summer with Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal all credit with interest in signing the then 16-year-old. I am sure Monaco will be regretting whatever happened, which effectively ended the players stay at the Principality club. Mejbri’s father did give a hint of something around the time United signed the player, saying:

“Something bad happened. For our family, it was very hard to live. It’s a real shock, a trauma. Mistakes were made.

“From there, I consider that the relationship of trust between the club and our family is destroyed. Something broke. It’s hard to keep working with people when there’s such a lack of trust.”

Class of 92 graduate and United legend, Nicky Butt, who was the head of the academy until the summer of 2019, seeing the backroom staff of the first team being restructured with Butt becoming the head of first-team development instead, reporting directly to Solskjaer, admitted that United had problems signing Mejbri. Specifically keeping the transfer under the radar because of the high-profile nature of the player. Butt said:

“It’s hard to get him under the radar when we’ve chased him for so long and he’s come from a big club for a big fee, so that’s impossible.

“But you want to get young people under the radar because, coming from a different country and getting the price tag on your head and coming to one of the biggest clubs in the world, there’s going to be so much pressure in the first place.

“I’ve got a 16-year-old kid who, I would hate that pressure on their shoulders, but they have that and it’d be foolish to put them out there too soon, because you don’t know what’s around the corner. They’re children.

“There is a long road to the first team and big bumps and some are going to do what Mason (Greenwood) or Marcus (Rashford) have done, some might go the Jesse (Lingard) way – going on loan five or six times and getting there.

“We’ve got some really good players that I believe will play for Man United. When, I don’t know. But they will play for Manchester United and, yeah, some of them have been brought through the ranks from seven, eight, nine or 10.”

Butt would have liked to get Mejbri signed without the attention they got in the summer as that puts a spotlight on the player, which might be too much for them at a young age. However, the 17-year-old is doing well at United right now and has done well at both U18 and U23 level. He has a long way to go, as confirmed by Butt although he is heading in the right direction.

Solskjaer has given many youth players time in the first team this season with the liked of Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood playing more than any other academy graduate this season. Mejbri has the ingredients to make his career special and United will be doing the right thing by keeping him grounded and on the path to reaching the first team. Once he is there, I think the team that failed to sign him in the summer will see another star of the football world.

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