On the surface, Manchester United dropping out of the Carabao Cup after last night’s 1-0 defeat to West Ham might not seem too significant.
But for the club’s group of talented young players, it was vital.
Arguably, United’s biggest talent at youth level, Hannibal Mejbri, may now be one of the casualties of the failure to progress in a competition that has always allowed for reserve players to play at a higher level.
The 18-year-old made his senior debut for United against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of last season and debuted at international level for Tunisia over the summer too.
His former coach at Paris FC has commented (via the Daily Mail) that he has the potential to become a new Paul Scholes for the Reds:
“He can become a future Paul Scholes at Manchester United. He has all the qualities in midfield to become a leader.”
Like Scholes in his younger years, Mejbri normally occupies an attacking midfield role but his passing range, vision, and aggression allows him to drop deeper and anchor things too.
At the under 23 level this season he has played as a deeper midfielder in a two, for coach Neil Wood, and has done well.
Last season, Mejbri scored five goals and made 10 assists in the academy while picking up the Player of the Year Award in May.
And though manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a strong record of giving good young players chances in the first team in his tenure, with United’s squad bloated, in particular in the attacking midfield area and on the left, opportunities for Mejbri will likely be limited.
One-half of the double-pivot midfield role, which Solskjaer prefers, in the Premier League requires strength and discipline and Mejbri may not yet be physically mature enough for it.
But on the ball, he is undoubtedly gifted. Not only can he pass but he carries the ball excellently and draws a lot of fouls.
He will now have to be more patient than before, given the Carabao Cup failure, but with his talent on the sidelines, United’s lack of quality in midfield might become more glaring.