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From the Busby babes to Fergie’s fledglings, Manchester United fans cherish their youth products, but who’s next?

From the Busby Babes to the Class of 92, Manchester United has a proud history of developing academy players, before bringing them up to the first team. In the recent FA Cup win against Watford, United fielded six players from the academy in their starting eleven. Back in December of 2019, United made it 4,000 games in succession in which at least one youth graduate has represented the Reds’ matchday squad. That record is still on-going, so who will be next to follow the likes of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba into making their debuts?

Anthony Elanga

Anthony Elanga has made an excellent start to life in the under 23’s after a permanent move up from the under 18’s this season. Six goals and three assists in 15 games earned him a chance to train with the first team squad of Christmas and he also played in the only pre-season game against Aston Villa. That taste of the first team squad seems to have inspired his performances this season. He is very similar to Marcus Rashford, coming off the left flank with blistering pace and lots of skill. 

He won the prestigious Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Award last season and after putting Salford City to the sword, scoring in a 6-1 win, Gary Neville said that he was a “nightmare to play against”. With United recently signing Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri, both right midfielders, there is a big battle to try and make it into the United first team, but Elanga has shown that his performances warrant a chance. 

Shola Shoretire

Shola Shoretire has become a regular in the under 23’s this season, making the step up from the under 18’s and has scored two goals and laid on two assists in 12 games. These stats might not seem all that impressive, considering it is the under 23’s and he’s highly hyped, but when you factor in that he is just 16, yes 16, then the mind starts to wander. If he can play in the under 23’s at just 16, then how quickly can he make that jump up to the first-team? Mason Greenwood has offered the blueprint, albeit, Greenwood bypassed the under 23’s completely, such was his talent. Shoretire is a highly technical player capable of playing on either flank and is another winger that the club seems to be churning out at a rate of knots. 

Recently under 23 manager, Neil Wood, stated that the 16 year old is already becoming the best players in his squad. High praise for someone so young, talk that was also afforded to Greenwood before his move to the first team squad. He has already trained with the first team, a sign that he is someone that Ole Gunner Solskjaer has an eye on. If he can continue his good form for the rest of the season, we may be seeing Shoretire a lot in pre-season and beyond. 

Hannibal Mejbri

Hannibal Mejbri, or just Hannibal as he is known, caused a lot of excitement when he joined United back in 2019. Another player making the full-time leap to the under 23’s this season, Hannibal is a central midfielder, who likes to get forward and create. His stats this season are impressive. Three goals and six assists in 14 appearances, but there have been times when he has struggled playing against stronger, physical players. This is the big difference stepping up from the under 18’s, especially as a 17-year-old. 

Slightly worrying is that he has the tendency to show levels of petulance when thing don’t go his way. Sent off for a silly tackle against Southampton under 23’s, former United player Ben Thornley has warned the young Frenchman to watch his body language at points this season. 

His quality is not in doubt though. His assist in that win against Salford City was sensational and United fans on social media got very excited, as was his slick finish in the 5-2 win against Brighton under 23’s earlier this season. It showed his ability in being able to take the ball running into the box, a quality that every team likes to have from their midfielders. It wouldn’t be surprised to see Hannibal make his debut in a cup game over the next year.

Joe Hugill

Joe Hugill is a born goal scorer. Signing from Sunderland this summer, the striker already stands at 6ft 2 at just 17 years old. He scored two goals in his debut under 18’s match and was immediately moved up to the under 23’s. He’s scored four goals in nine appearances, despite only starting two of those. In between he’s made another three appearances for the under 18’s, scoring four goals and creating another.

2020 had seen a large number of top young players across Europe join United, and although Hugill was believed to have a lot of potential, he wasn’t expected to make the jump up to the under 23’s quite as quickly as he had. Injuries helped his cause, but he has taken the chances and if he continues at the same rate, we could see him in the first team before too long. 

Charlie McNeill

If Joe Hugill does make the jump, he will likely be competing with Charlie McNeill all the way. They effectively already are. McNeill was signed from their rivals Manchester City in 2020, after leaving the United academy in 2014, and has scored six goals in eight under 18 appearances. It is said that he has over 600 goals in youth football, and in 2018 he signed a six year deal with Adidas. For City’s under 15’s he scored 110 goals and 38 assists in 72 games. 

Those numbers are incredible and whilst it doesn’t mean it will transcend over to senior football, the signs are promising. Being a boyhood United fan will also increase the want for United fans to see him succeed. If he and Hugill both continue to develop, the United front line could be very tasty in the next five years. 

Alvaro Fernandez

Alvaro Fernandez is another 17-year-old that United recruited last summer. Signing him from Real Madrid on a free may end up being a steal in future years. He made his debut for the under 18’s scoring against Burnley, before settling in the under 23’s ever since. If you’ve had the pleasure to see him play, you will have seen a hugely technical player who despite enjoying the attacking side of the game, is more than happy defending. With Alex Telles signing this season to provide competition to Luke Shaw, Fernandez may be next to make the position his own in the next four or five years. 

When your idol is Marcelo, you know what you’re going to get with a player and United fans will be eager to see the 17-year-old in action for the first team before too long. 

Arnau Puigmal

In 2017, United beat Barcelona to the signing of Arnau Puigmal. At the time, he was seen as a one of the best Spanish players of his generation. Fast forward three years, and Puigmal is having his best season at United so far. Seven goals and two assists so in ten appearances for the under 23’s have led to high praise surrounding the teenager. The only caveat? His contract is expiring at the end of this season and Barcelona want him back

Puigmal is equally adept at playing anymore on the right flank as he is centre midfield and United will be very keen to hold onto him. They lost Angel Gomes in similar circumstances last summer and will want to avoid this situation happening again. Whether or not, Solskjaer can find a place for him in the team is another matter. With the financial situation at Barcelona worsening, the Spaniard may feel that he will find it easier to force his way into the Barcelona side then the United side. United fans will hope he doesn’t as he meshes technical quality with a physical presence, something that would suit him well in the Premier League. 

All seven of these players are highly thought of and will be determined to make it into the first team squad. Solskjaer has proven that he is more than happy to give youth players a chance. Tuanzebe has played more this season and the manager took a very youthful side to Astana, giving many first team debuts. Di’Shon Bernard and Dylan Levitt from the start – and three more in the second half, substitutes D’Mani Mellor, Largie Ramazani and Ethan Galbraith. Teden Mengi made his debut as a substitute later on in that Europe League campaign and James Garner, impressing on loan at Watford this season has made several appearances for United and is highly thought of. 

Ethan Laird, Mengi and Garner are all players that could make the breakthrough into the first team squad in the next year or so. As previously mentioned, Garner has been impressing on loan and will be 20 when he returns to the club. Seeing Scott McTominay’s pathway into the first team will give him confidence as to making the side himself and a full season in senior football will be more than beneficial for him. 

Ethan Laird has also been earmarked for the first team. He too is tasting his first action in senior football after moving to MK Dons on loan. He made his debut against Burnley in the FA Cup, playing for an hour and earning plaudits from his new manager. United had been linked to Kieran Trippier, whilst Timothy Fosu-Mensah is on his way to Bayer Leverkusen. If Laird impresses on loan, then he may be the man to fight with Aaron Wan-Bissaka next season. 

Teden Mengi is highly rated by many at the club and joined the first team squad for training in the build up to the Carabao cup game against Manchester City. He may have only managed six minutes in his solitary game for United, but he has shown himself to be a leader and is the current under 23 captain. He also showed his will to win, criticising teammate Hannibal after the Frenchman posted a picture of himself and Chelsea youngster Pierre Ekwah on Instagram. The post came shortly after the 6-1 defeat to the Blues and Mengi was quick to highlight that the reason they lost was down to ‘too many friends and not enough enemies’. United fans will enjoy seeing a captain saying that, you’d imagine that would be Roy Keane’s opinion, and it bodes well for his future. 

Written by Huw Rawlings

Ones to Watch: Hannibal Mejbri – young, French and talented and seeking glory

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 pandemic stopped world 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 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, Mejbri 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, Mejbri 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 this season, after a total of eight appearances, the 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. Mejbri’s season started on the 9 September 202 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 Mejbri scoring one goal and one assist, showing his ability for his club. United then beat Rochdale 5-4 on penalties in the Para 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. It is going to be a long, tough season but one that should show his abilities, talents and sheer determination to succeed for United.

Written by John Walker

Hannibal Mejbri ‘has a long way to go’ but his talent and quality is there for all to see

Hannibal Mejbri had a great match against Salford City in the first group stage match of the EFL Trophy which saw Manchester United U21s beat the club owned by Class of 1992 graduates Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Phil Neville – who between them own 60% of the club with Peter Lim owning the other 40%. It was a great start for United who scored six goals against the League Two side. United and Salford share the group with Rochdale and Morecambe.

Mejbri opened the scoring in the eighth minute of the match, assisted by James Garner. United’s lead was doubled in the 29th minute of the game through Arnau Puigmal, assisted by Anthony Elanga. In the 46th minute, Mark Helm scored the third goal, assisted by Mejbri. Then came three goals in four minutes from the 70th minute with Charlie McCann, assisted by Helm, then in the 73rd minute Helm was assisted by Garner followed by the sixth and final goal in the 74th minute scored by Elanga, assisted by Mejbri.

Mejbri, who joined United’s academy last summer (2019) in a transfer from principality club AS Monaco with United spending £9.3 million on the player, who came highly regarded. The French midfielder is considered as one of the top talents in United’s academy and his performance against Salford, along with what he achieved at United in his debut season, will leave supporters thirsty for more. It is suggested that the player wants to make the first team in a few years time.

United’s U23 coach, Neil Wood who saw fellow coach Quinton Fortune leave the club this week to take up a coaching role at Reading within their first team, joining former United defender John O’Shea who retired from the game at the Berkshire club and started coaching within the Reading first team last season. Many have speculated that Mejbri could find himself in the first team if he keeps developing in the way he has but Wood has poured cold water on that with The Mirror reporting him as saying:

“As much as he is a good player there’s still a long way to go with Hannibal, he’s still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of improving.

“You can see the good bits of his play, he’s got great feet, he’s got great vision, he’s tenacious, but there’s still work to be done with him.

“I wouldn’t get carried away and say he’s going to be in the first team, but he’s willing to work, he’s willing to improve.

“He’s got a very good understanding of the game and a very good understanding of what he needs to get better at as well.

“We’re going to keep working with him this season, he’s had a very good pre-season, we’re very pleased with his pre-season, and we’re hoping he can take that into the season ahead.”

Mejbri has a great future ahead of him and will continue to get chances to play at a higher level this season with Wood likely to select him in the upcoming EFL Trophy matches against Rochdale (6 October 2020) and Morecambe (10 November). That said, the player is likely to be considered at U18 level with United opening their season against Liverpool on Saturday but also at U23 level, when the season starts. United will be back in the top flight of the Premier League 2 this season after winning promotion last season, despite the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the season.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United have plans for Hannibal Mejbri but not in the first team just yet

Manchester United U23 manager Neil Wood has confirmed that the club has plans for French midfielder Hannibal Mejbri after signing the player a year ago from principality club AS Monaco. The player will remain part of the clubs youth set up rather than be promoted to the first team. The 17-year-old impressed during his first season at the club, which was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. The player made 20 appearances for the U18s and U23s, scoring one goal and five assists.

The French midfielder arrived at United in what seemed like a high-profile transfer last summer with United paying £9.3 million, if all clauses in the contract are met. It is fair to say that the player has considerable talent and Monaco will have been upset to let the player leave the club. In the future he could become one of the best players in the world providing he keeps his development heading in the right direction. United would not have spent what they had on the player if they did not see his potential.

15 of Mejbri’s appearances (14 starts and one substitute appearance) came ay U18 level last season with five appearances (one start and four substitute appearances) at U23 level. It would seem that the French midfielder will be playing amongst the U23s this season after they gained promotion to the top-flight of the Premier League 2 this season after the league was suspended and promptly cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. He will probably feature in the UEFA Youth League with United back in the UEFA Champions League.

The Manchester Evening News has spoken to Neil Wood, the U23 manager about the Frenchman, seemingly looking to find out whether he will be promoted to the first team anytime soon. However, it was revealed that the club have plans for the player and they will not be making any quick decisions on the progress of the player, which could cause problems if he was promoted too early. It would seem that some see the player’s price tag and assume he’s a first team player. Wood said:

“I think what you need to remember is Hannibal is still a young lad, he is only 17. He’s not long been here really, he is probably coming up to almost a first completed season if that.

“I think people get sucked into the price-tag, and again that is not Hannibal’s fault. So I think he is a young player with potential, he is one of the young players we have got with potential, but there is still a lot of development and learning which needs to be put into him.

“We still need to get him to a higher level to get him to even go and train with the first-team, so there is no rush to start pushing him in that first-team environment right now.

“I think the challenge is going to be enough for him at U23s right now and we are going to push him and try to move him up as quick as we can, but at the same time we won’t rush him if he’s not ready to do that.”

It is good to see the club tread carefully with a player who could well be a world star in a few years time. The player will be happy to play football at U23 level, which will be good for him along with the inclusion in the UEFA Youth League, which will see the club come up against other teams who have qualified for the UEFA Champions League next season. When United see progress with the player, he may be given chances at first team level. He will be enthused to see that Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood have progressed into the first team during the 2019/20 season and should see that if he impresses the world could be his oyster.

Written by John Walker

Hannibal Mejbri has talent and could make the rise like Mason Greenwood

It would be fair to say that 18-year-old Mason Greenwood is a generational talent at Manchester United after his meteoric rise to the first team and the fact he has made 48 appearances for the club so far this season, scoring 16 goals and assisting five more. He has played 2,329 minutes of football so far this season, with three more matches of the domestic season left to play before the UEFA Europa League commences – he is one exciting prospect at the club; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is pleased.

That said, Greenwood is not the only exciting player at the Old Trafford club, especially in the youth ranks. Last summer, United signed 16-year-old Hannibal Mejbri, now 17, who had a good season, despite youth football ending back in March because of the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football, cancelling many leagues in Europe. The French teenager is highly rated and his transfer was kept under wraps last summer, as much as it could have been anyway.

His departure will be rued by AS Monaco, who seem to have lost a player who could be a generational talent. Mejbri has made 20 appearances for United at U18 and U23 level this season, starting 15 times and coming off the bench five times, scoring one goal, assisting five more. Granted, he may have a lot more to do in order to make his meteoric rise to the first team but Solskjaer will be watching his progress closely as he looks at add more creativity, drive, determination and flair into the midfield.

There were many reports in the media about Mejbri’s prospective (at the time) move to United but they kept it as quiet as they could with rumours coming out close to the time the player arrived at the club. Nicky Butt, who at the times was the head of the clubs academy, now the head of first team development, responsible for academy players making the rise into the first team, just like he did from the Class of 1992 all those years ago. Mejbri, if he keeps in the right track, will end up doing the same. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News back in February, Butt, speaking about Mejbri, said:

“Hannibal [Mejbri]’s a leader. The way he plays his football is 100mph, he’s non-stop running up and down.

“He’s got his own path. We make sure when we sign players we always speak to the parents and give them an example of all different ways of getting into Manchester United’s first-team.

“Hannibal is different to Paul [Pogba] when Paul was a youth team player. He’s not as powerful as Paul, he isn’t as dominant as him, he’s a different kind of player to Paul but we all know about the talent he’s got. It’s been written out there in the press many times with the signing and the fee.

“But he’s a young man who’s come to a new country who needs a bit of time. He’s a very, very talented boy but he’s still very immature. He’s still a baby, he’s just 17.

“He’s not got anything on him just yet, he needs to build up his size and build up his physicality. Talent-wise, he’s got such an immense talent to go on and play at a high level but there’s a long way to go yet.”

United paid £9.3 million for Mejbri last summer, which was reported by The Sun, also in February, which might be a lot of money for an unproven teenager, but it just shows how valued he was by Monaco, despite the fallout between him and the club which has been catalogued in multiple places since, even written about by this website (which you can read here). If the player continues on his rise to stardom, which is something he can do at United, he is going to be a massive talent.

At the time United signed the player, there was a lot of hype surrounding him, which is something that Butt wanted to shield him from, protecting the player in his tender years so it did not affect him at a later stage. This does not seem to be the case though, the player did not even rise to abuse from Leeds United supporters when United beat them in the FA Youth Cup earlier this season. t could show his character, which will help him succeed in the future. As reported by The Sun, Butt spoke about signing Mejbri, saying:

“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 in 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.”

It shows that the protection is there from the club, especially Butt who knows that it is like to come through the academy and on the cusp of first team football, presumably why he’s in the role of helping players develop between youth and senior football now, looking out for the player and th rigours of what is to come. Could Mejbri be a shock promotion to the first team this summer for Solskjaer? Could he be involved in the UEFA Europa League this season? Who knows? One thing is for sure, the more you hear about Hannibal Mejbri now, will make you thirstier to see that the player can do in the near future. Can he rise like Greenwood did? He has the talent, in time you will see.

Written by John Walker

Eight talented academy players that Solskjaer could promote in the future

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a whole host of talent in his squad at the Old Trafford club but to continue putting his mark on the team he will be seeking to do something similar to what Sir Alex Ferguson did at the club – continuing to trust the clubs talented youth players and giving them opportunities to succeed in the first team, which is the way the club has been run for over a century. This is the DNA of United, the main thing that keeps supporters supporting the club.

When you talk about United, two things seem synonymous – the Busby Babes and the Class of 1992. Both incarnations involved talent youth players making up a lot of the squad and guiding the club to glory, which is what both levels did, albeit one of them, the Busby Babes were ended after that fateful plane crash in Munich on the 6 February 1958. Ten years later though, Sir Matt Busby honoured their deaths with a European Cup victory, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley Stadium.

For Solskjaer to create his own style at United, which like Ferguson’s was moulded on the style of Busby – fast-paced attacking football with United pushing themselves on the opposition, in their half, for the majority of the match, which is what Solskjaer has started to implement and has been sown for much of 2020 so far, especially after the Premier League restart because of the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football for about three months in mid-March.

Solskjaer will be looking to bring in a few new faces this summer, to continue United’s rise, also seeking to end a few careers at the club, making way for new faces – some of which will be from the clubs successful academy, which helped the Busby Babes, the Class of 1992 and other players from other periods to attain their places in the game, many of whom ended up leave the club for pastures new, forming a career for themselves, albeit at a lower or different level to that of United.

Which players from the clubs academy could Solskjaer look to bring through to the first team in the not too distant future and beyond?

There are eight players at this moment in time who are excelling in their abilities at youth level and need to find a way to break into first team football, whether it is under Solskjaer in United’s first team or at another club in the form of a loan spell during the 2020/21 season. Loan spells away from United have been important in the growth of young players. Look what being loaned out has done for United goalkeeper Dean Henderson at Sheffield United. He’s turned into a decent player.

Players such as David Beckham were loaned out before making United’s first team. Not all players will make it though, that is down to football, the opportunity each player has and how they take their chances. This is not a detriment to the abilities of players who did not make the grade at United, their schooling at the club gave them something, many of them forming careers in the game. The eight players that Solskjaer should keep an eye on are detailed below;

Ethan Laird, 18

The right-back is a player who can also play at left-back and in the central areas of the back four, so will be a player that offers a lot to Solskjaer. He has been promoted to first team training already and could make an appearance soon, having already made his debut in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana in Kazakhstan in November. At youth level, Laird has played 54 times, scoring four goals and 16 assists. He could well be the player that takes on Aaron Wan-Bissaka for the right-back role.

Teden Mengi, 18

The central defender is the player that has been tipped to be the next youth player to make it into the first team. He has been training with Solskjaer’s squad for a while – he has been around the first team but has not yet played. In three seasons at youth level, he has played 50 times, scoring twice and assisting five times. With a lack of depth in defence at this stage of the season, Mengi could be crucial in the remaining matches of the season, albeit on the bench but could get a run out sooner rather than later.

Di’Shon Bernard, 19

Another central defender that could offer more will keep Solskjaer happy. He seems to be inundated with quality defenders coming through the youth ranks. Like Laird, Bernard made his debut in the UEFA Europa League back in November against FC Astana. At youth level, finishing his third season at United, the defender has made 55 appearances, scoring five goals and one assist – showing his class from the back, which is something that might get him noticed by Solskjaer in the future.

James Garner, 19

Perhaps one of the more experienced players on this list and possibly one who has the talent to play in the first team now, although I feel a season on loan for him would do him the world of good during his career, which is likely to be at United, unless something goes dreadfully wrong. In four seasons at the club, he has made seven first team appearances, assisting one goal. At youth level, he has made 63 appearances, scoring 14 goals and nine assists. A talented midfielder just waiting for that chance. Hopefully Solskjaer will have some plans for him.

Ethan Galbraith, 19

The Northern Ireland midfielder operates in a withdrawn, defensive area, which is a position that Solskjaer will need to make arrangements for in the future, with Nemanja Matic not getting any younger, but options are there for him to be implemented, if he passes the tests Solskjaer will likely put in place with Nicky Butt now in charge of first team progression from academy level. Came off the bench for the first team already this season and will be seeking progress there. At academy level, he’s played 60 times, scoring eight goals and six assists.

Dylan Levitt, 19

The Welsh midfielder is a bit like Garner, has experience at youth level and has made his debut in the first team although eh has not played as much as his young teammate. Levitt is a midfielder who can get on the ball, dictate play and get into important goalscoring positions. During his time in the academy, where he has finished his third season, Levitt has made a total of 74 appearances, scoring 14 goals and 16 assists – showing his quality on the ball and a player who could excite Solskjaer and the Old Trafford faithful for years to come. Like Garner, a loan spell away from United could be beneficial, unless Solskjaer has plans.

Hannibal Mejbri, 17

The 17-year-old French midfielder is a player that has a lot of backing at United and Nicky Butt, a former academy graduate and part of the famous Class of 92 was part of the team that brought Mejbri from AS Monaco last summer. It was a high-profile transfer considering the age of the player, who was 16 at the time, with many clubs seemingly interested in him with United pulling it off. Mejbri has played 20 times at academy level, scoring one goal and five assists. He’s going to be a quality player.

D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, 19

The 19-year-old is an exciting player who can play a variety of positions in the wide areas, through the middle of the midfield, behind the striker and playing as a centre-forward, which is the position he has played regularly this season at youth level. He’s been at United all his playing career and will be seeking to force himself into Solskjaer’s plans in the short-term future. He’s already made his debut, albeit off the bench, so has a little experience. At youth level, he’s made 60 appearances, scoring 15 goals and nine assists, which bodes well for the future, if he can keep creation and goalscoring coming.

There will no doubt be more names to add to this list in the future but these eight players could have the ingredients for Solskjaer to keep a close eye on their progress in the academy, seeking that spark which could get them in the first team regularly. Some players will benefit from being loaned out next season, others will benefit from being given chances in the first team sparingly, giving them a taste of the action and what will be required to achieve a position at that level more often. The future certainly looks exciting for United and these eight payers.

Written by John Walker

Angel Gomes set to leave Manchester United, which might be a regret for both but Hannibal Mejbri could flourish at the club

Manchester United attacking midfielder Angel Gomes is set to leave the Old Trafford club on Tuesday on the expiry of his contract. United had previously offered him a new contract but it is not something that the player has agreed to sign, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Some will seen negativity here, many positivity, others will have mixed views.

Granted, Gomes has been a revelation for the club at youth level but seems to have a lot to do in order to be considered a revelation at first team level. When he has played for United this season, he’s has not really lived up to the expectations or looked like a player that would continually earn opportunities at first team level.

He should probably look at himself as the main factor as to why he has not progressed, instead of blaming anyone else. His future is in his hands after all. At U23 level, Gomes seems unplayable but at senior level, something is not quote right. The same cold be said for Tahith Chong too, who signed a contract extension with Gomes expected to follow suit.

The 19-year-old has been described as one of the brightest prospects to come out of the clubs academy in recent years, which should be something the player is proud of. However, being bright at youth level does not guarantee that you will be bright as a senior player. Speaking about Gomes leaving the club, Solskjaer said:

“I’ve not heard from them last night or this morning, it seems like they haven’t managed to agree.”

The departure of Gomes should not be something that United regret. They have been honest with the player and he obviously does not see a way for his to succeed at the club. Not every player will. However, United have ample talent in the clubs academy that could take advantage of the gap that Gomes would create at the club.

Hannibal Mejbri, 17, who was signed by the club last summer from AS Monaco has shown good form playing at U18 and U23 level already this season and has set himself a target to break into the first team within two years, so has the right mentality and will test himself on the way. With Gomes possibly out of the picture, Mejbri could take advantage of the situation.

The 17-year-old Frenchman will have to put a lot of effort into his development to make it into the clubs first team but so far seems to have the ability and mindset to do just that. He will, of course, have to challenge the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Fred, who are already in the first team.

That would not be the only battle for him though, he will have to take on current U23 players for a position in the first team with James Garner and Dylan Levitt, who are both more experienced at U23 level. However, the duo could be loaned away from the Old Trafford Lub next season, giving Mejbri more playing time at U23 level and the space to grow.

When a player leave the club, some supporters will be angry that they were never given the opportunity, when in actual fact, opportunities were given but the player seemed a long way away from the level they should have been, which is down to the player to change. Gomes will have to think about his next move carefully. Hopefully, he succeeds in his career and is a player talked about in the future.

Hannibal Mejbri could be given first team role at Manchester United next season – reports

Manchester United academy midfielder Hannibal Mejbri could be given a first team role at the club next season, according to reports. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have been keeping a close eye on the player, after his high profile move to the club from AS Monaco last summer. His first season has shown his ability, something which could be utilised further.

He may only still be 17 but he came to the club after already having been tipped to have a glittering career in the game and United were adamant that they would sign the player, completing the £9.3 million deal nearly a year ago with the player making his debut at U18 and U23 level this season, possibly seeking him rise further next season.

The coronavirus pandemic suspended world football in mid-March ending up cancelling youth football, meaning the player will not be seen again this season, unless Solskjaer wants to give him a chance now, which might not seem logical given that he would be at least sixth-choice in the midfield ranks and would seldom play first team football.

However, there is a chance that he should shine when called upon, meaning he would give the Norwegian manager a good headache, adding some glittering ability to his team, possible saving the club money when they dabble in the transfer window this summer, or whenever the new transfer window opens, which might not actually be until August.

At this moment in time, Solskjaer has Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic in the first team, with the likes of James Garner and Dylan Levitt in the U23s and seeking first team football. However, the pair could be loaned out next season, making a space at that level for Mejbri, where he would regularly play.

This would keep him match fit and not expecting to play week in and week out in the first team, which probably would not happen next season, unless he did well on his debut, doing enough to stay in the squad, which would be fairytale-like and not necessarily something that would happen – but you never know.

Nicky Butt, who came through the clubs academy, graduating in the famous Class of 1992 with the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville was the head of the academy last summer before stepping up to the role as head of first team development, keeping an eye on players like Mejbri. When the Frenchman was signed, 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 in 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.”

Mejbri has made a total of 20 appearances at youth level this season (15 starts and five substitute appearances) playing at both U18 and U23 level. He has scored one goal and five assists since making his debut back in August 2019 after receiving international clearance after his transfer. If he makes the first team, he will not be classed as a homegrown player, which is not really an issue given that United have many of those already.

Manchester United could already have the next Kylian Mbappe within their academy although labels like this could be premature

Manchester United signed Hannibal Mejbri last summer in a deal with £9.3 million from principality club AS Monaco. He made his debut playing the United’s U18s earlier this season and has also played a handful of matches for the clubs U23s. He is tipped to be a star in the years to come and a player that Monaco will miss.

The 17-year-old seems to be having a great time at United and in training, he is reported to be taking the mickey out of players older than him in training. It was suggested that Mejbri had problems understanding teammates that have Mancunian accents at the club, something he seems to be overcoming and now letting his feet do the talking.

The Athletic, earlier this season, published an article about Mejbri which included some quotes from a source which confirmed that the French teenager has taken the mickey, which was said in a different way, out of some older players in training sessions. He seems to have bags of talent which will help him in his career. The quotes stated:

“He is composed, can go past a player and break a line. He actually takes the mick sometimes against players a couple of years older than him. He’ll feint to strike then drag it and shoot the other way.

“He has trained with the first team when certain groups have been away. Mainly technical stuff, not what you’d class as full training. In his frame, he is still a kid.”

Mejbri has already been compared to United legends Bryan Robson, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and David Beckham by former United player and Class of 92 graduate, Nicky Butt. The 17-year-old has been dubbed the new Kylian Mbappe because be emanates from the same eastern Parisian suburb as the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

This may be something that could seen far-fetched but this boy has talent. If Butt, the new head of first-team development at United, but was previously the head of the clubs academy, has seen something in him to even compare him to the likes of Robson, Keane, Scholes and Beckham. Coming from the same area as N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and six other FIFA World Cup winners in the France squad.

Mejbri has been predominantly playing for the clubs U18 team this season but has played a few times for the U23s, doing well in the step up. His career path into the first team but be blocked at present, with the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed Bruno Fernandes during the January transfer window, but in the future, there wlll be space for the teenager.

Mejbri will have his work cut out for him in the future, especially whilst being compared to the likes of Robson, Keane, Scholes and Beckham but especially being labelled as the new Mbappe, which could add more weight on his shoulders. His father wanted him to be a lawyer or a doctor, not a footballer but accepts the decision his son made. Lotfi Mejbri said:

“Even if he does [make it as a pro footballer], I do not want him to have a chickpea for a brain in his head.”

It would seen that Mejbri comes from a good family that want the best for him. Obviously, if he fails at football, he might have another path regarding his career, however, he seems too good right now to even suggest he could fail. I have watched this lad all season and there does seem to be something special about him.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be seeing a close eye on Mejbri and many of his teammates for the rest of the season, if the academy teams continue playing football, and into the new season with an eye to seeing progress and working towards being picked to represent the first team. Solskjaer is an advocate of promoting youth just like Sir Alex Ferguson was. Here is hoping that we see Mejbri in the first team in the not too distant future.

copyright: JW