• Tom Abadie

HANNIBAL MEJBRI: WHO IS THE UNITED YOUTH STAR SET FOR FIRST TEAM ACTION?


For regular watchers of U23 English football and viewers of the Tunisian national, this name will certainly ring a bell. However, for regular watchers of football, you should prepare for the next big thing that will emerge from Manchester United’s youth teams. To prepare you for when the Tunisian sweeps through your team’s midfield, here’s a piece all about the young Red Devil.


Biography


Hannibal, who prefers being called by his first name, is a 19-year-old midfielder playing for Manchester United’s youth team. He moved from Monaco’s youth setup in the summer of 2019, after a season in Southern France. Born in the Parisian suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, he did most of his academy career at second tier club Paris FC, before a quick stop in another Parisian based club of Boulogne-Billancourt. After numerous experiences in France, he did also take time to study in prestigious INF Clairefontaine academy, which saw many French internationals such as Thierry Henry further their football knowledge.


All in all, Hannibal has travelled a bit throughout Parisian suburbs and after a short experience in Monaco, he made his first move abroad to join the Red Devils’ youth teams. Why would he leave one of the best academies in France, which recently saw Kylian Mbappé come through? After a year in the South, his parents and himself believed the club had breached their agreement and was growing increasingly delusional with his poor treatment at the club. As European top sides started coming for him, his head was turned. When Manchester United came into the picture with a 5 million euro offer, with another 5 million in add ons, there was little choice for Monaco. While he showed a lot of promise, he was nowhere near the level he is currently showing, leaving Monaco with what felt like an easy decision to let him go abroad. It is fair to say they will probably regret that decision, seeing the skill-set he is currently showing on English and African pitches with his international side.


New life with the Red Devils


Born in France to Tunisian parents, he played for his native country at U16 and U17 level before switching for his parents’ country for senior level. While having a francophone upbringing, his high level of English helped him adapt quickly to his new country. Noted by the managers of the youth teams in Manchester, his communication skills and sheer confidence certainly helped him to stand out to various members of the Red Devils’ staff. While he said French players around him helped, he truly thanked the staff for being so supportive when speaking to MUTV last year.


“I think it was my family who helped me a lot because it’s not easy at all moving to another country. So they were a massive help to me. We’ve had French players at the club and also the coaches who’ve helped me too. Everyone has helped me and been great with me. All the staff at the club have always been there for me. And I thank them all for that.


“I think I’m fully settled in now. We do a lot more strength work in the gym but that’s all fine. I’ve adapted well I think, and everyone has helped me to do that.”

Other than having to adapt to a new language and culture, he had to adapt to a new game. More physical, quicker and more technical, Hannibal was entering a whole new environment when arriving at the Aon Training Centre. However, his determination to succeed shone through and he put in the extra work to get to the top. Very quickly, he joined the U23 team managed by Neil Wood, and shone through immediately. Wood has been acclaimed for his work with the youngster, trying him out as a wide left attacking midfielder, enabling him to combine with like-minded attacking players around him. While the position change is something done a lot at this level, particularly in Manchester, Hannibal took on the challenge at full throttle and has excelled in this new position, further developing his versatility. At the end of last year, he was presented with the Denzil Haroun Under-23s Player of the Year. He was also given his professional debut against Wolves for the final league game of the season, with Solskjaer giving him an opportunity to shine at Molineux. So, what is he good at?


Confident, skilled and determined


Playing with the 10 on his back at youth level, Hannibal drives forward with the ball at pace, head held high and always eyeing for a pass which will break opposition’s defence. He attracts the ball, often touching it upwards of 100 times per game, while still having a strong retention and pass completion rates. He is skilled, able to turn under pressure and run into space. While standing tall at 6 feet, he has great balance and swirls through opposition bodies on his way to goal. His complete performance against Lincoln last summer was particularly notable.






This performance also showed another important aspect of his game: his defensive work. He’s certainly not a defensive midfielder, but he puts an incredible level of pressure on opposition players, never thinking twice about getting dirty and putting his studs in a challenge. It is not always the cleanest of challenge, with numerous cards being showed for strong challenges, but he certainly never avoids a good scrap. You can feel that in his personality. When a teammate is out of place or not working as hard as he is, he never backs out of a confrontation and tells his partner exactly what he thinks about their performance, even at a young age. He’s been told to curb his attitude when it comes to challenges, trying to limit the number of cards he is awarded. His positive attitude and leadership however are deeply valued by his coaches.


Hannibal has been able to put that fighting spirit in place numerous times, but also using his technical ability further away from goal. He played a deeper role notably in the FA Youth Cup tie against Liverpool, using his passing range and dribbling skills to control the game from deeper into his own half. There, he can also use his tall body and well as his physicality he has been developing in the gym over the last few years. There is no argument that putting him in an attacking position, whether that is centrally or wide, would be more beneficial to him in the future. However, having that versatility will be helpful when making an attempt to break into the first team.


What’s next?


Well firstly, Hannibal, as mentioned before, has made a first appearance with the senior squad. He also gets involved in first team training when players are out for injury. He is getting opportunities to showcase his talent and is expected to have more appearances in weeks to come with the first team, notably with the departure of Van de Beek. While being a different player and style to the Dutchman, he is also younger and more aggressive, suiting Rangnick’s style more. He is expected to feature in the group in weeks to come, notably in cup games. He will most likely a bit short to feature in the group playing Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this week, having recently returned from AFCON, but a further qualification could see him get playing time.


Speaking of AFCON, his most minutes at senior level have come with the Tunisian kit. As mentioned above, he played for France’s youth teams, but the Tunisian federation ‘recruited’ him, making a big event to present the player when he announced he would continue international duty with the African side. He made his debut with 45 minutes played in a 1-0 win over Congo in early June 2021, before making his first start in another friendly a few days later against Mali. While he did not feature in the World Cup qualifiers between September and November, he played on average 80 minutes in the 6 games Tunisia played at the Arab cup in December. His team was unfortunate to lose to Algeria in the final, but Hannibal made a name for himself, playing exciting football and looking fully at his ease, although having little senior level football experience.


Performances which were highly valued by the national team manager, Mondher Kebaier, and pushed the latter to select him for AFCON. While the Arab Cup did not feature many top players, as most European clubs especially kept their players during a busy winter period, this was less the case AFCON. Consequently, Hannibal was replaced by players such as Skhiri or Chaaeleli in the starting 11. He came on for the second half in the opening game against Mali, and played 22 minutes in the third group game against Gambia. He was however not involved further in the tournament, which ended with a quarter final loss to Burkina Faso. Overall, there is however a feeling he will become increasingly involved in the national team, but will most likely need more professional experience at club level in order to feature a little more at international level. He is however, a future talent people should look out for. Nobody can know whether he will be an elite player, or whether he’ll have a huge career at Manchester United. At this point however, there are a lot of things pointing towards a classy talent who could really have an impact wherever he goes.