The Scout: Former Arsenal trialist poised to solve Man Utd midfield conundrum

Date published: Thursday 17th December 2020 2:49 - Steve Pearson

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In our weekly Scout feature, we take a deep dive into an emerging player on track to become a footballing superstar before our very eyes.

This week’s edition focuses on Man Utd midfielder Hannibal Mejbri, a player destined to be the club’s long-term solution to their midfield issues.

Player Profile

The central midfielder, 17, opted to join the Red Devils in 2019 for a fee set to rise to £9m.

In doing so, Man Utd fended off interest from Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal, along with a host of Europe’s elite clubs in Spain, France and Germany.

A string of mature performances in the club’s Under-18s last term brought a rapid promotion to the Under-23s despite his tender age.

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Success was immediate. Three assists were notched in just 164 minutes of action as the buzz around how quickly the Frenchman could progress into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-team began to grow.

Mejbri has dazzled while orchestrating the Under-23s attack in the current campaign, most recently outclassing the highly touted midfield of Man City’s Under-23s in every department last weekend.

Why the hype?

Initially deployed primarily in the pivot position, Mejbri has ventured further forward this season with unmitigated success.

He always plays with his head up and strives to set his forwards free. That trait that is doubly impressive given young players with his turn of pace often forego their support in favour of an attempted moment of individual brilliance.

Central midfield isn’t a position traditionally associated with great pace. As such, Mejbri would have no trouble jinking one way and sprinting past most holding midfielders currently in the Premier League.

That would be a last resort, however, because Mejbri already boasts every pass in the book.

His close and controlled dribbling style is a defender’s worst nightmare. It is a technique that takes a lot of touches without ever pushing the ball far in front. Like a puppeteer pulling the strings, once his opposition makes their move, Mejbri is either fouled or leaving them in his dust.

Adverse reactions to attempts to foul him out of games have reared their ugly head at times, however.

Mejbri was sent off versus West Ham’s Under-23s in November following an altercation over a cynical foul. His obvious talents will attract the opposition’s best attempts to needle him and he must learn that the greatest way he can punish his opponents is by simply staying on the pitch.


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Reminds you of…?

A maverick? Multi-dimensional? Unstoppable even when scythed down half a dozen times each game? Sounds familiar…

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Ironically, Jack Grealish is a man who was high on Ed Woodward’s radar over the summer.

He may already have the 17-year-old version in the system.

Highlight Reel

A compilation video of a player’s best moments in a match often flatters to deceive.

A fancy flick here, a neat pass there, the rest? Usually humdrum ‘by the numbers’ action.

Against one of the most talented Under-23 sides in the country last weekend, Mejbri produced a performance that ticked every box. It was so complete that Man City’s youth had little choice but to hack him down at every opportunity.

It didn’t work…

The Experts’ View

You might think a maverick midfielder would be lacking in unteachable traits such as leadership. Not so.

Mejbri’s selflessness and leadership qualities have already been highlighted by the club’s Head of First Team Development, Nicky Butt.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “Hannibal’s a leader. The way he plays his football is 100mph, he’s non-stop running up and down.”

But what will get Man Utd fans’ juices flowing the most is his ability to outclass his opposite number.

A Man Utd source told the Athletic: “He actually takes the p*ss sometimes against players a couple of years older than him. He’ll feint to strike then drag it and shoot the other way.”


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Tell us something we don’t know…

Mejbri was identified as a future superstar by Arsenal when he was just 11 years old.

According to talkSPORT, a trial with the Gunners materialised, with Arsenal reportedly confident at the time of being able to acquire the starlet when he turned 16.

Man Utd would ultimately go on to usurp their rivals, ensuring Mejbri’s name will soon be added to the laundry list of global superstars Arsenal claim to have come close to signing over the last 20 years.

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A perfect fit for…?

Man Utd’s midfield, of course. Questions remain over a number of the club’s current options. At times, it feels like Bruno Fernandes is the only player above reproach.

The Portuguese playmaker presents an insurmountable brick wall to overcome for the attacking midfield position. But with Paul Pogba’s future increasingly uncertain and Donny Van de Beek persistently overlooked, the club’s upcoming Europa League foray could provide Mejbri with a taste of first-team action.

He must improve his defensive awareness and bulk up before hoping to play in the holding midfield role, however.

That is through no fault of his own though. Some positions in football can be filled by blossoming teenagers with their lack of experience rarely a detriment – winger for example.

The heat of the central midfield engine room is a place that managers are often reluctant to expose youngsters to. But if anyone can break the mould, it’s Hannibal Mejbri.

 

Follow The Scout on Twitter here.

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