Six academy players who will become valuable squad players at Manchester United

Manchester United have a history of developing players through their academy, whether the players end up reaching the first team of the club or end up playing their football somewhere else. This is part of the clubs DNA and is something that is seen by many as special. When United faced Villarreal in the UEFA Europa League final in Gdañsk on the 26 May 2021, it was the 4,097th match in a row that had at least one academy player in the squad which has been running since October 1937 and United are very proud of that fact. Not every academy player will make it at United but they do tend to carve careers in the game elsewhere. Some supports do not understand the role of the academy at the club and assume that English players with no skill are a waste of time – if only they understood the rules and regulations of the English game.

This article talks about six academy players who will become valuable squad players in the not too distant future, although some of them may head out of the club on loan this summer in a bid to gain experience in firs team football ahead of coming back to the club to find their feet and push themselves into the first team with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keen to find the road to glory in a similar fashion as Sir Alex Ferguson. United have so many talented youngsters at the club, some of whom have not yet represented the first team. Not all the players mentioned have played for the first team yet but have been involved in matches, albeit on the bench, which will have given them the understanding of the process. All have played first team football though, with the player being loaned out to give them experience to succeed.

Will Fish – Central Defender

The 18-year-old can play in either of the central defensive positions and seems to be highly rated by United, at least in the academy sense. His contract runs until the summer of 2022, so the 2021/22 season will be a big one for him. I would expect United to offer him a new contract this summer though, so they are not in a position whereby he could leave the club on a free next summer. He made his first team debut in the final Premier League match of the season with United beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 on the final day of the season. He replaced Daniel James in the final minute of the match. Fish made a total of 31 appearances throughout the 2020/21 season, 30 of those at academy level, scoring one goal and two assists. At just over six foot, Fish could give something to this United squad in the future, especially with the problems in the defence currently.

Depending on what happens at United this summer, regarding a new central defender and the likes of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who have been linked with exits, despite Bailly’s contract renewal, it could leave some space in the first team for a central defender. Obviously, Fish would play predominantly in the U23 side during the course of the season but could be given chances in the first team in the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. It would seem unlikely that he may get UEFA Champions League experience, but it all depends on the teams that will face United in the group. There is also a chance for him to be loaned out to a Football League club, which might be good for him and help him find his feet for the future. He is a player that should remain at United, as long as he continues to develop in the right way.

Teden Mengi – Central Defender

The 19-year-old is also considered as a highly rated player at the club and was loaned out to Wayne Rooney’s Derby Country for the second half of last season, which will have been a good experience for the player. His current contract at United ends in the summer of 2024, which gives United a lot more time to find a plan for him as it seems certain that he is being developed to play for United’s first team at some stage in the not too distant future. It is possible that he leaves on loan again during the 2021/22 season with Derby an option but there may be a better plan for the player to be loaned out to a Premier League club, which will bring him up to speed with the pace in the league, which would be much better for United from the 2022/23 season. Mengi can play in either of the two central defensive positions, also fitting in as a makeshift right-back.

Standing at six feet, Mengi has the frame to offer something in the centre of defence for United and he has a physical build, which will only become better as he ages, which is also a good sign. Mengi made seven appearances in the Premier League 2 and and three appearances in the Papa John’s Trophy for United last season. He also appeared on the bench for the first team in the Carabao Cup. He was loaned to Derby during the January transfer window and made nine appearances in the Championship for the club. He did not score or assist any goals for either team but had a pretty positive season. He was often praised by Rooney and his Derby teammates and Solskjaer seems keen on helping hims develop so he can regularly feature for the first team in the not too distant future. His season was ended with a hamstring injury back in April.

Dylan Levitt – Central Midfield

The 20-year-old is a talent that most United supporters will have knowledge of as he has been present in the U23 and the first team for quote a few seasons now, making his only first team appearance in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana in the 2019/20 season. His contract at United ends in the summer of 2022, so this summer should see United offer him a new contract, beneficial for his progress at the club and whilst out on loan. This will be a big summer for his as he was selected in Wales’ Euro 2020 squad, with the competition delayed from last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. Levitt started the 2020/21 season on loan at League One club Charlton Athletic but ended the season at Croatian club, NK Istra 1961. It was a mainly positive season for the Welsh midfielder with a lot more to come from him.

Levitt started the season with two appearances in the Premier League 2 with United, then finding himself on loan at Charlton, where he made a total of five appearances in League One, the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. It was not good enough that he was seldom used so United recalled him from his loan spell and sought to loan him out to another club, which turned out to be NK Istra. He made a total of seven appearances in the 1.HNL and two appearances in the Hrvatski Nogometni Kup. Levitt has since confirmed that he made the move to Croatia to give him a better chance of being selected by Wales for the Euro’s this summer, which he though gave him a better chance than playing U23 football. The 2021/22 season could see him loaned out again, maybe to a Championship or a Premier League club, which will help him develop even more.

Hannibal Mejbri – Attacking Midfield

The 18-year-old is perhaps the most rated player in this article and the majority of United supporters will hold some interest in the player. When he signed from AS Monaco in the summer of 2019, he stated that he wanted to play for the United first team within two years, which he achieved on the final day of the Premier League season when United beat Wolves 2-1. Hannibal replaced Juan Mata in the 82nd minute of the match, doing well on his debut. His contract at United does not expire until the summer of 2026, so United have loads of time to get him up to the speed desired for him to become a first team regular at the club, he did renew his contract earlier this year. Hannibal made a total of 26 appearances for United this season, 25 of those at youth level. He did not end his season too highly at U23 level, finding himself send off to retaliating to a series of bad tackles.

During the course of the season, Hannibal had seen himself on the receiving end of many bad tackles by the opposition, many of which went unpunished with the player seething. In total, over the course of the season, Hannibal scored five goals and ten assists playing in the Premier League 2 and the Papa John’s Trophy. The coaches at the club will have seen a lot of ability from the youngster, who recently made his debut for Tunisia at international level, previously representing France at both U16 and U17 level. It seems clear that U23 football is a low level for Hannibal and it is too soon for him break into the first team consistently so a loan spell away from the club during the 2021/22 season would be the best option for him, as long as guarantees are made for the player regarding game time and the fact that he is still wanted at United and this is just for experience.

Shola Shoretire – Winger/Attacking Midfielder

The 17-year-old has seemingly found his feet at United and was rewarded towards the end of the 2020/21 season with some first team appearances after his good form at U23 level during the course of the season. He signed his first professional contract at United back in February. He will probably be offered a new contract soon after his 18th birthday. The player has been at the Old Trafford club since he was nine, so will be seeking to get as far as he can at the club, coming so far already. It is expected that he will be considered a first team player ahead of the 2021/22 season with with Euro 2020 playing out this summer, after being postponed last summer, the pre-season campaign will probably consist of many youth players and fringe players being part of the squad with a bit to regaining fitness ahead of the 2021/22 season.

During the course of the season, Shoretire made a total of 27 appearances, two of which came in the Premier League and one in the UEFA Europa League – the rest were made at youth level, playing in the Premier League 2, the Papa John’s Trophy and the FA Youth Cup. He scored 10 goals and five assists throughout the season, which is a great achievement for the player, which is one of the reasons why he was assed to the first team towards the end of the season at a time where Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani were injured and Marcus Rashford was carrying an injury, resulting in Solskjaer strengthening his attacking line. Shoretire could well be involved in an around the first team during the 2021/22 season or he could be loaned out in search of first team experience, which would also be good for him in the long run.

Anthony Elanga – Winger/Centre Forward

The 19-year-old is perhaps the player that has made the biggest impact recently for United. He signed a new long-term contract at United back in March, at the same time as Hannibal, although the length of the contract is not yet publicised. He was added to the first team for the UEFA Europa League pursuit this season with Martial out of action and Cavani struggling at times with injury, which will have been an achievement for him. He was recently called up for Sweden’s U21 squad, playing two matches and scoring in each of them over the past week or so, which will give him immense pride and give him the burning fires of passion to achieve at United. He made his Premier League debut this season too, starting against Leicester City and Wolves, scoring against the latter.

During the course of the 2020/21 season, Elanga made a total of 22 appearances, scoring 12 goals and four assists. Two appearances and one of the goals were for the first team and despite not actually playing in the Europa League this season, he gave United and Solskjaer further options in attack. It is early days for the player this summer but the general consensus is that he will compliment the attacking ranks at the club next season, unless purchases this summer will limit that. He won’t be happy playing U23 football, so if his first team appearances will be limited, a spell away from the club on loan might be an option. He can play on both wings and as a centre forward, so he has a lot more to offer, especially in the fact that United have Cavani, Martial Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood as strikers, with two of those often playing wide positions.

Written by John Walker

Hannibal Mejbri could fill a void in Manchester United’s midfield in the not too distant future

When Manchester United signed Hannibal Mejbri from AS Monaco in the summer of 2019, they clearly knew what type of player they were getting at the Old Trafford club. During his first season at the club, in 19 appearances he scored one goal and six assists, which was a good output from a player adapting to English football. This season, in 25 appearances, he scored five goals and ten assists – also ending the season as the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award, previously won by James Garner, Tahith Chong, Demi Mitchell and Axel Tuanzebe, amongst others. It shows that progress is being made at U23 level, which is where he has played the majority of his football this season.

At just 18 years old, Hannibal, as he likes to be called, has a great career ahead of him. Coming from the greater Paris area originally, the same area as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe played as youths, he is from great stock amongst those names and will be determined to carve himself a career similar to his compatriots. At United, he must know he has that opportunity, rising from U18 football to U23 football and could feature for the first team in the final Premier League match of the season away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday afternoon. Hannibal ended his season with a red card in the 3-1 defeat to Derby County a few weeks back, something which he will have found lots of frustration with.

During the course of the 2020/21 season, Hannibal has been targeted by his opposition and seems to have received lots of kicks to his body, hair pulling and other things to make him react. It just goes to show that he is a player with skills much higher than his opposition if that is the only way they can try to thwart him from creating something or scoring a goal. His peers will know how good his is too, praising his ability and relying on him to create something from nothing. Hannibal himself knows what he is capable of and will be working to show that every opportunity he gets. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Hannibal, speaking about the course of the season and how thankful he was, said:

“It’s a very proud moment for me and my family. I will say thank you to the coaches, to my team-mates and everyone who helped me. Thank you very much.

“I think the Under-23s league was good, we did well with a young team and I think we all learned some things. The coach helped us a lot, with our technical [play] and how we need to work.

“For me, personally, it was good. I learned a lot. I had to be stronger. I was more consistent in the games and I had more goals and assists than the season before. It’s always good to take that step, so it was good.”

United are starting to enter an exciting period for the club, the players and the supporters. Over the past two full seasons, Solskjaer has guided his players to a third placed finish in his first full season then a second-placed finish in his second full season. United reached the UEFA Champions League Carabao Cup semi-final, FA Cup semi-final and UEFA Europa League semi-final in the 2019/20 season, also reaching the Carabao Cup semi-final this season and ended the semi-final hoodoo by reaching the UEFA Europa League final this season. Solskjaer has also given many academy players their full debuts and that is expected to continue as United face their final Premier League match of the season, away to Wolves.

This gives Hannibal a great chance to show what he can do for the first team, which may result in him being tested more often next season, which could be where he starts to break into the squad. Of course, the Frenchman has been training with the first team already this season, so it will only be a matter of time before the manager feels the player is able to step up and make himself counted. Hannibal is an exciting prospect and can produce for his club, as he has shown this season with his five goals and ten assists. He obviously has a lot of ground to cover to become Premier League quality but with all the ingredients there, he could be a player for United that will start to fill the void on his road to success at the Theatre of Dreams.

Written by Dave Preston

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.

copyright: JW