The loss of Angel Gomes at the end of June may be a blessing in disguise for Manchester United as there is an even younger – and potentially greater – talent who could take his place in the first team squad – Hannibal Mejbri.
The French starlet joined United from Monaco in August for a fee in the region of £9.2 million – an eye-watering figure for a 16-year-old who had not played a single senior game for the French side.
Mejbri made his debut for a struggling Under-18s side in September and his standout performances quickly earned him a call-up to the Under-23s. He provided two assists for the reserves in his first three appearances from the bench, earning him his first start against Newcastle on 1st October, in which he provided another assist.
Former United star Ben Thornley, who co-commentates on the Under 23s games, believes that Mejbri is a special talent.
‘He is a little bit like Fernandes in that he does get himself into places where defenders are reluctant to come out and mark him,’ Thornley told Tribalfootball.com.
‘He takes a kick and he draws fouls as well and he can go either way. He is a very, very talented player.
‘I do think that sometimes his temperament needs to be curtailed a little bit. We like a fiery character, no doubt about that, but it’s just knowing where to draw the line before you start getting told off by the referee and cards start coming out, and before it affects you on the pitch.
‘If you’re thinking too hard about remonstrating with the referee it’s going to take away from what you’re supposed to be doing on the pitch. So he just needs to get that balance right.
‘We love a fiery character, we’ve had plenty at our club. Mejbri is definitely one, but he is also very, very talented.’
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One issue that might have held Mejbri back from progressing to the first team is his physique, normal for a 17-year-old but arguably too light for the rigours of senior football. However, a photograph showing Mejbri on the beach in Tunisia, shared in a tweet on Sunday, suggests that the youngster has been working hard in the gym during lockdown and has certainly bulked up considerably since he was last seen playing for an academy side.
The Red Devils will have to decide whether or not to send Mejbri out on loan in the coming season to help his development. It seems more likely that Nicky Butt and co will want to keep him closer to home, as they have with other special talents such as Mason Greenwood and the departing Gomes. Given his physical development as evidenced by the photo, he could well be considered ready to be included in the first team squad, despite his tender age.
We may yet see Mejbri back in action this season if the FA Youth Cup is given the go-ahead to resume. United meet Chelsea in the semi-finals and Mejbri is sure to play a central role in the encounter.