Ones to Watch: Hannibal Mejbri – a midfield star in the making?

The developing midfielder has the aggression to make him a star at United but he also needs to cool it a little

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. It was a big fee for the club to pay but he’s going to be a great player.

The then 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.

Hannibal had played 13 times for the U18s, also playing five times for the U23s this season – before the pandemic. The then 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.

Hannibal has been capped for France U16s 12 times, scoring one goal and has risen to the U17s, playing three times, scoring twice. He came 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.

It always seems to be the typical chants seemingly demonising the looks of a player which make it even more cringe. But you will always get things like that from opposition supporters – you know, the cheesy comments that lack intelligence, let alone forethought.

Hannibal 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 then manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær 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 Hannibal 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 Hannibal has a similar playing style, which is something that we might see in the Premier League in the years to come.

Obviously, Hannibal 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.”

Hannibal 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 at some point soon.

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 Hannibal 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. Hannibal’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 Solskjær, admitted that United had problems signing Hannibal. 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 Hannibal 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 then 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 likes 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.

So far during the 2020/21 season, Hannibal has continued his form from last season showing that his development is coming on in leaps and bounds. During the 2019/20 season, which was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, Hannibal made a total of 19 appearances for the club, playing at U18 and U23 level, scoring one goal and six assists, which was a good start for him at the club.

However, so far that season, after a total of eight appearances, the then 17-year-old has scored three goals and four assists for the club, predominantly playing in the Premier League 2, also playing in the EFL Trophy, also called the Papa John’s Trophy. Hannibal’s season started on the 9 September 2021 in the Papa John’s Trophy against Salford City with United winning the match 6-0.

The Frenchman scored one goal and two assists in that match, which was a great start for him. His first league match was a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, which was a bad start for United. Then followed a 5-3 defeat to Liverpool in the league with Hannibal scoring one goal and one assist, showing his ability for his club. United then beat Rochdale 5-4 on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy, continuing their fine form in the cup competition.

In the league, draws against Blackburn Rovers (2-2) and Arsenal (3-3) followed. A 2-1 victory over Everton then a 5-2 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion got United back to winning ways with Mejbri scoring a goal and an assist in the latter. Hannibal ended the 2020/21 season with 25 appearances at youth level, scoring five goals and ten assists. He also made his first team debut.

After playing in the final Premier League match of the 2020/21 season, a 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers – replacing Juan Mata in the 82nd minute, Hannibal had high hopes to get more first team action during the 2021/22 season. But this season has been a difficult one. He has had injuries, suspensions and two international tournaments to endure.

Hannibal has made just five appearances so far this season, scoring no goal but getting two assists. With Solskjaer out of the picture for the first team, the Tunisian international will have to prove himself under Ralf Rangnick with the player already catching his eye. He was recently included in the clubs squad for the Emirates FA Cup penalty defeat to Middlesbrough, but did not get onto the pitch.

In the not too distant future, Hannibal will get a good chance in the first team to prove himself, especially with the fact that United saw Donny van de Beek, Amad Diallo and Anthony Martial all leave the club on loan during the January transfer window and the midfield, especially in an attacking sense, being a lot weaker than it was at the start of the season.

It could well be time for Rangnick to test some of the younger players in the academy to see what they are capable of. As in the past, Sir Alex Ferguson allowed the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville to get their own chances in the first team.

The added experience of playing in the FIFA Arab Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations will boost him in his pursuit of first team football. With Solskjær now a figure of the past for United and Ralf Rangnick also leaving the club, the future under the guidance of Erik ten Hag will be good for Hannibal.

Last season, the Tunisian international made it into the first team, making two appearances. He has been training with the first team for more than a season, so will be picking up some knowledge as he looks to find a way into the first team on a permanent basis.

The main problem there will be the players around him such as Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek, Scott McTominay and Fred, not to mention the fact that if United complete the signing of both Frenkie de Jong and Christian Eriksen, his chances of regular football will be slim.

A loan spell could be on the cards for the French-born Tunisian, which could give him the chance to gain first team football in the Premier League or the Championship, or even playing on the continent. I am sure he would relish the opportunity and come back to United in a stronger position.

Written by John Walker

About John Walker 1711 Articles
I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.