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Hanni-baller

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Over the years, Manchester United have produced an incredible amount of young talent through their academy, with new players always bursting through onto the scene. One crop after another is always making their mark. The likes of Kobbie Mainoo, Toby Collyer and Charlie McNeil are already leading the charge for the next generation.

However, Hannibal Mejbri, who might just be the crown jewel, is now following the path taken by his teammate Alvaro Fernandez. Mejbri is set to join Championship side Birmingham on loan.

Many United fans see him as the potential answer to their midfield problem, insisting one day he will slot into one of the central positions and fit like a glove.

Many have compared Hannibal to Paul Scholes. The swagger and technical elegance is reminiscent of United’s former orchestrator. And former coach Bekhti, sees Hannibal Mejbri emulating the Manchester United academy graduate. Although the path taken by Mejbri will be somewhat different.

The loan move was approved by new Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag after it looked like he wouldn’t make it into ten Hag’s first XI. There was plenty of competition to land the Tunisian midfielder’s signature with Millwall and Middlesbrough both tabling an offer for the youngster.

Mejbri will be joining a side that is renowned for giving youth a chance if they’re good enough. Jude Bellingham can attest to that. More recently, his brother and Mejbri’s potential teammate Jobe Bellingham has also started making a mark.

“He can become a future Paul Scholes at Manchester United. He has all the qualities in the midfield to become a boss.” said Mejbri’s former coach Bekhti.

Former interim manager Ralf Rangnick believes Hannibal Mejbri is a ‘highly talented’ player with a bright future at Manchester United, though his opportunities are likely to be limited due to competition in his favoured attacking midfield role.

The 18-year-old, who was handed his debut by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, arrived from Monaco in 2019 with a reputation as one of the most exciting young players in Europe. Although he hasn’t settled at Old Trafford yet, Hannibal received a call-up to the senior Tunisia international team, shunning the chance to play for France.

He was part of the team that finished as runners-up to Algeria in the Arab Cup, impressing against the UAE and Egypt. Due to his stunning displays in the academy, the ex-Monaco youth ace was rewarded with a long-term contract last March.

 

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On the importance of giving youngsters like Hannibal a chance, Rangnick said:

‘I think since the Busby Babes this has always been part of the DNA of the club and the same was true under Sir Alex Ferguson in those 27 years.

‘It’s not only about youth, but it’s also about being talented and having the right personality and mentality and if those things come together then of course I want to play as many of those young players as possible.

‘We had three, four or five of them in our squad already and for me, it’s important to develop those players.’

 

Playing career so far

Hannibal Mejbri has been catching the eye at the academy level for Manchester United. The big clubs had come knocking on the door in the past. Arsenal, Liverpool, you name them. But none were persuasive enough for Hannibal Mejbri.

The allure of money or prestige did not sway him. Hannibal wanted something more. A tangible route. A proven track record of success. And for youth football, no one can compare to Manchester United. Manchester United boast one of the best youth academies in football.

Youth is ingrained and steeped in the club’s history. From the Busby Babes to the Class of 92, and the likes of Lingard, Rashford and McTominay carrying the club’s youth baton in the present era.

Hannibal’s decision was not one that was taken lightly. Leaving for pastures new is never easy. But three years into his venture in the North of England, the move had paid dividends so far. He has taken the hallowed Carrington training ground by storm. Turning heads. Making mouths gape. And in true British cultural fashion taunting away crowds with skills and swagger.

 

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The rapid trajectory of the teenager does not surprise his former youth coach, Reda Bekhti, and he is predicting a bright future ahead. In the Parisian sunlight, Reda Bekhti watched a group of boys chasing the ball aimlessly. It was a typical U9 training session. The kids were still familiarising themselves with the ball and their teammates.

Until a shabby-haired, spindly limbed boy took hold of the coveted treasure. With his first few touches, Bekhti could tell this was not a typical eight-year-old.

 

As Bekhti worked with the young boy, he noticed there was more to him than just mere talent. He had a work ethic and an insatiate mentality to play football.

“Hannibal was always an attentive boy and thirsty to learn. Our goal was to have him develop his individual qualities through collective sessions alongside his teammates.

“In training, he was a hard worker and a competitor. He was a perfectionist in everything. He wanted to master every drill before he was satisfied with the session.”

Hannibal Mejbri Stats

With his trademark locks in a bun, Hannibal Mejbri oozed confidence on his first Manchester United outing in the Premier League.

It may have been just eight minutes, but the young man looked composed on the ball with silky touches against a tough Wolverhampton side. He looked proactive with the ball, and he showed signs he belonged in adult football. The brief flicker and impressive performances at the U23 level were enough to earn him a call-up from the Tunisia senior national team.

 

Hannibal Mejbri scout report

The youngster can make the extraordinary seem effortless. He does not even have to try. He can frustrate his opponents like they were practising cones. And sometimes the only solution to thwart him is to scythe him down. Many mistake his poise for arrogance, but former coach Bekthi disagrees.

“He is a confident and a strong character. People who did not know him used to think he was arrogant, but it’s the contrary. He loves competition, he just wants to win, that’s his charisma.”

On one or two occasions, Mejbri’s determination to win can cause him to lash out unnecessarily. His disciplinary record in United’s youth team is something that has been flagged as an area he needs to curb from his game.

Hannibal Mejbri had a great tournament in Qatar at the Arab Cup, starting every game for Tunisia and playing a total of 494 minutes in the competition. At just 18 years old, he was the standout young player in a side that had scored nine goals during the 2021 Arab Cup.

The tournament has taught him a lot about professional football, the pressures of needing to perform to a constant high level and being available when you’re needed most.

Though he has a solid amount of experience at an international level, Mejbri has featured just thrice for United’s senior side since making the switch to Manchester from Monaco in the summer of 2019 for a fee of up to €10million.

Manchester United youngster Hannibal Mejbri has also revealed he dreams of emulating the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho and Andres Iniesta. The 18-year-old – likened to Red Devils legends David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane – is capable of playing anywhere across the midfield.

Commenting on who the ex-Monaco academy ace looks up to, he told the club’s website:

“Obviously I’ve got role models, but they don’t play much football these days!

“Zinedine Zidane was one of the best players in the world and you had someone like Ronaldinho who was great on the wing. [Andres] Iniesta [plays] a bit deeper.

“So I try to learn from watching players like that but in my national team too we’ve got some really talented players, so I’m hoping to learn from them as well.”

 

What makes him special?

Playing at Manchester United is about not just playing brilliant football all the time, but playing brilliant football under immense and sometimes suffocating pressure; and what defines pressure more than an international cup final (FIFA Arab Cup).

Watching Hannibal, it is clear to see he has a footballing intelligence and awareness beyond his years. Off the ball, he is constantly scanning and keeping an eye on where everybody is (both his teammates and opposition) and shifts the play accordingly whenever he has the chance. His line-breaking progressive passes are a thing of beauty.

Hannibal is graceful on the ball, but he’s far from a delicate player. Throughout his short career so far, he has been aggressive with his tackling, and his aforementioned pressing, and is not afraid to give some word to the referee, either.

Former Manchester United midfielder Luke Chadwick says he’s excited by what he’s seen from highly-rated Red Devils wonderkid Hannibal Mejbri.

In general, Chadwick continues to feel optimistic about how his old club are doing precisely because of the strength of their academy, with Mejbri perhaps looking the next big thing to follow the likes of Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay into the senior side.

“That’s what Manchester United is built on from years gone by,” Chadwick told. “Even with the huge downwards spiral the club has been on, with where they’ve finished in the league and lack of trophies since Sir Alex retired, the one constant has been those academy players who’ve come through into the first-team.

“He’s got the raw potential to be a very special player in years to come. United rate him incredibly highly, he’s got a bit of that X-factor that you look for, someone who might come on and excite the crowd.”

Hannibal Mejbri believes he has the skill set to thrive in any midfield position or even on the wing for Manchester United. Hannibal insists he can play all of the roles as long as he is given time to understand the tactical nuances that come with them, particularly when it comes to what he has to do off the ball. Long-term, his best role is probably that of a modern “Mezzala“.

“To be honest with you, I’ll give my absolute best wherever I’m played out on the pitch, whether that be at no.8 or no.6 or no.10 or even on the wing,” he told the club website. “I think I’ve got the qualities to play all of those positions.

“I just need to study each of them to make sure I tactically understand them, in particular without the ball and then when I have the ball I just have to play my own game and not feel any pressure. “Up until now, it’s been working really well.”

Hannibal Mejbri Potential

It is no secret that Hannibal Mejbri is a class talent; there’s a reason Manchester United paid AS Monaco £10m for his services at just 16 years of age.

His display in the Arab Cup final is clear evidence that so far, United’s fee for the young baller is paying off well. He possesses traits that will be well appreciated by Birmingham City or any club he joins on loan for that matter, and it won’t be long until he gets his chance at Manchester United.

This season is hopefully the season where fans start to see him more often regularly playing for the first team albeit not for the Red Devils. Although he is only 19 years of age, it is more than obvious that he has the grit, talent and desire to play in the biggest competitions and biggest stages on the footballing planet.

United fans recently got a glimpse of youngsters like Alejandro Garnacho in the Premier League, and they’ll be hoping Mejbri can be a regular appearance for the Red Devils in the not-too-distant future as well.

Arnold Lewis
A hardcore Chelsea fan, who is often found playing football on the weekends. He has an exceptional voice and his rendition of old Hindi classic songs will make your heart melt. He is the man with the funky hair.

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