Poached from AS Monaco last summer, midfielder Hannibal Mejbri has made a quick impression in Manchester and could force his way into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-team plans before too long. Let’s take a closer look at the Manchester United academy’s 17-year-old crown jewel.
Tipped for the top of world football practically since birth, Hannibal Mejbri earned a boot deal with Adidas at the age of 13 and the admiration of the biggest clubs in Europe. While developing in the Paris FC and Boulogne-Billancourt youth setups, he dazzled on trial at Arsenal and turned down a “huge offer” from Liverpool before moving to Monaco. What seemed a match made in heaven, though, quickly turned sour for unknown reasons.
“Something bad happened,” Mejbri’s father said in 2019. “For our family, it was very hard to live. It’s a real shock, a trauma. There were mistakes made and, from there, I consider the relationship of trust between the club and our family destroyed.”
Monaco’s misstep — whatever it was — became Manchester United’s windfall. With other top clubs circling, the Reds invited the Mejbri family to Carrington for a visit last summer and, shortly after, agreed terms on a £9.3 million transfer for the French wonderkid. United paid half of the fee upfront and Mejbri signed on the dotted line.
Money Well Spent
Getting Hannibal Mejbri to Manchester was no easy feat, but it’s been all smooth sailing since. In nine appearances for the U18s, he’s scored one goal with three assists. Even better, his performances haven’t dropped off at all when stepping up to join the U23s. In Premier League 2, Mejbri has averaged an assist every 55 minutes.
The central midfielder boasts classic playmaking talent. He’s comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, creates chances with ease, and flashes a football intelligence far beyond his years. In short, Hannibal Mejbri is the total package. And, encouragingly, he enthusiastically presses high up the field and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work of defending.
The hard work ahead will come in the weight room. Mejbri’s slight frame makes him an attractive target for opponents, especially after he’s embarrassed them a time or two with his assortment of clever feints and flicks. Adding some much-needed muscle will help Mejbri play through the hard tackles, as well as making it easier to shrug off cynical defenders trying to throw him off his game.
Hannibal Mejbri has been directly involved in 0.5 goals per game when starting in central midfield this season.— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) April 7, 2020
One to watch. pic.twitter.com/K4H09SGaGR
Nicky Butt, Manchester United’s head of first-team development, knows a special talent when he sees one. That’s why, for now, he’s focused on keeping the pressure off Hannibal Mejbri.
“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,” says Butt. “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.”
Not Far Off
Despite Butt’s best efforts, Mejbri is breaking out — and, soon, everyone will know about him. In a season when Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have firmly re-established the academy pipeline at Manchester United, the question on everyone’s mind is when might Hannibal Mejbri make his first-team debut?
Unfortunately, it’s tough to forecast any young player’s path forward with the COVID-19 health crisis bringing European football to a halt. Mejbri seemed a surety for the club’s planned preseason tour this summer, but that’s extremely unlikely to happen at all now. Mejbri, like everyone else, is in a holding pattern for the moment. Hopefully, the 17-year-old is using this unexpected time off to build up his physical strength.
In His Own Words
After signing for Manchester United last summer, Hannibal Mejbri opened up to Le Parisien about his ambitious move.
On United’s French connection:
We share the same training facilities and gym as the first team, so I am going to often be able to rub shoulders with [Paul] Pogba and [Anthony] Martial. With the youth team, there is also Noam Emeran. We were together at Clairefontaine. I spoke to him on the phone and he told me: “It is really great here! Come!” His presence is going to help me to integrate quicker. Aliou Traore has also been here for two years. He will be able to share his experiences with me and advise me.
On what it means to sign for one of the biggest clubs in the world:
It is an honor. Manchester United have a great history and are reputed for the way they develop young talent. It will allow me to progress to try to play one day with the biggest and the best. I have watched a lot of videos from the past. Huge names have worn the Manchester United shirt — it’s an honor to come after them.
On his plans for the future:
Initially, I’m going to join up with the U18s. If I’m able to get into the first team in two years’ time, that would be great. Aside from that, everything depends on me. Physically, I am going to have to improve somewhat. I do not yet know how my body is going to evolve. If I have to turn my attention to that side of things, I will — but without losing my technical ability and on-pitch vision.