Choosing the second player to focus on in this mini-series wasn’t all that hard at all as the dazzling feet of Hannibal Mejbri have quickly made him one of the most exciting prospects to have signed for Manchester United’s academy in recent history.
The Frenchman’s creativity and football brain have enticed many fans to take a comfortable seat on his bandwagon —and with the 17-year-old’s undeniable natural talent — it looks like it may very well be a TGV trip straight into the first-team setup.
Date of Birth: 21/1/2003
Preferred Foot: Right
Manchester United U18 & (U23) — Apps: 13 (5) | Goals: 1 | Assists: 3 (3)
France U17 & (U16) — Apps: 3 (12) | Goals: 2 (1) | Assists: 3
Mejbri’s flamboyant hairstyle does a good job attracting the fans attention every time he’s in the frame of a camera. But, it is what you see once the attacking midfielder gets on the ball that’s even more impressive.
His raw talent, in the short time that we have been able to witness it at United, has been nothing short of show-stopping. The recently turned 17-year-old is one of those players that makes the complex things he does on a football pitch seem easy and effortless. There is a natural swagger about him.
The Frenchman arrived in Manchester late into last summer’s transfer window and with quite a fee resting on his shoulders. Monaco cashed a £9.3 million check for Mejbri’s services, and although there is usually not a ton of pressure on players in the academy, you would imagine that there were some immediate expectations for Mejbri to at least start showing glimpses of what he may one day be capable of.
Looking at this gamble — because that’s what you have to call splashing that amount of cash on a youth player — almost a season later, it’s probably safe to say that the payoff process has begun.
A quick glance at Mejbri’s stats from this season will not tell the whole story. Nowhere near it. As much as we all love to delve for them to make judgements, sometimes you have to watch the games too. And in those, Mejbri has been outstanding.
The Frenchman has a goal and three assists in 13 appearances for the U18 side and an impressive three assists in five matches for the U23 side.
Mejbri was eased into the proceedings at United. But even with that, the hype has been spreading rapidly every time he’s featured. His silky touches, vision and adventurousness in the middle of the park have caused that. Mejbri has thus far shown all the qualities required in a Manchester United midfielder.
Like Greenwood last year, Mejbri is one of those players that makes people want to tune in to watch the youth teams play. It has to be said that what Greenwood did at all youth levels was pretty unprecedented, but the prospect of Mejbri’s talent is comparable.
The way Mejbri plays is a little reminiscent of Angel Gomes. The two central midfielders have a very similar vibe about them. Both undersized but extremely controlling. They dictate what goes on in midfield. When the ball should be slowed down, when the tempo should be picked up, those decisions are down to players like Mejbri and Gomes when they are on the pitch.
The initial hype around Mejbri reminisces Gomes in a way too. And with the latter’s contract situation as uncertain as ever, the young Frenchman might be the perfect fit to replace Gomes in the first-team picture.
Ability wise, he could be thrown into a first-team game right now and do very well. Physically, he’s not there yet. But, a summer of work with the first team could change that. Don’t be shocked if Mejbri features on tour this summer.
Greenwood has set the blueprint and showed his younger peers that ability alone can propel you right into the senior squad. And while it’s unlikely that Mejbri will experience a similar jump in status, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was given a taste of first-team action here and there as form of motivation — to keep him hungry.
But, very much like last week’s star, Anthony Elanga, the immediate future for Mejbri will be all about solidity in the U23 side. He has just turned 17 earlier this year but it’s hard to imagine him featuring for the U18 side too often next season, especially considering how well his game has translated into U23 football this year.
Mejbri could become a focal point for the PL 2 side next season. He’s the kind of player that every possession runs through before it is finalized. If he can continue his development while looking just as impressive playing against more physical opposition, his ascension into the senior squad may be just around the corner.