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'A highly talented player' - What are Man Utd's plans for Tunisia golden boy Mejbri?

11:00 GMT+3 16/01/2022
Hannibal Mejbri Tunisia 2021-22
Hannibal Mejbri is currently at Afcon representing Tunisia, but what's the plan for the midfielder at Man Utd when he gets back?

When Hannibal Mejbri played against Egypt in the semi-final of the Arab Cup in Doha last month, it was a moment he likened to lining up in the Champions League final. 

It was that big a moment for the 18-year-old and his decision to declare for Tunisia has only been further vindicated by his participation in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.

It wasn't a straightforward choice either.

GOAL understands a number of Championship clubs, including Reading, enquired about taking the teenager on loan for the duration of the 2021-22 campaign because of his impressive displays for United's Under-23 side.

However, Mejbri, who previously rejected call-ups from France's 18s and U19s, declared for Tunisia last May and his international commitments this season made him a less attractive proposition for interested parties.

The France-born player was desperate to represent his parents' homeland at both the Arab Cup and the Afcon and United directors John Murtough and Darren Fletcher both agreed that Mejbri would benefit from playing tournament football with Tunisia.

They are being proven correct. Sources say that those who have been in touch with Mejbri over the past few weeks have been impressed with how he has grown, on and off the field.

He started every game at the Arab Cup and was twice named man of the match, meaning it came as no surprise to see him start Wednesday's controversial Afcon loss to Mali. 

Mejbri was taken off at the break and it remains to be seen just how many more minutes he will rack up in Sunday's meeting with Mauritania and next week's clash with Gambia.

However, even if Tunisia were to bow out at the group stage, United believe that the tournament will have been a very worthwhile experience for the Paris FC product.

The midfielder is certainly on Ralf Rangnick’s radar. Mejbri had the opportunity to take a holiday between the Arab Cup and the Afcon, but he opted instead to return to Manchester to partake in training sessions with the senior squad.

Rangnick is already an admirer of Mejbri’s talent, labelling him a "highly talented player", and the plan for Tunisia's new golden boy is for him to rejoin the first team as soon as he gets back from Cameroon, while continuing to line out for Neil Wood’s U23s.

Wood, and his staff, have been impressed with how Mejbri has developed since arriving from Monaco in 2019.

He is regularly the most fouled player on the pitch – staff were actually concerned he would eventually suffer a broken leg given how regularly he was being targeted by opponents – but while he used to retaliate to rough treatment, now he displays a calmer demeanour.

Mejbri still plays with passion but he now deals with the fouls and vitriol he is subjected to in a very impressive manner.

Indeed, in August, when United faced Lincoln in the EFL Trophy, Mejbri was racially abused by a home supporter and it is understood after the game he met with Lincoln’s CEO to request that the guilty party not be banned for as he didn’t want to ruin his future as there were mitigating circumstances. The club did decide to ban the supporter until he completed an education course with Kick it Out and the League One side subsequently sent a letter to United commending Mejbri on his maturity and apologising for the incident.

It is hardly surprising, then, that he has also emerged as one of the leaders in the U23s' dressing room.

It didn't go unnoticed either that during spells on the sidelines with injury, he has still turned up at games at Leigh Sports Village to support his team-mates.

Mejbri will, of course, still need to improve certain aspects of his game if he is to force his way into the first team.

However, he has excellent technical ability and while he is often deployed as a No.10, he is also more than capable of playing anywhere across the forward line.

Mejbri also boasts a tenacious pressing style, which explains why Rangnick is such a fan.

A loan move could further aid his development but United are unlikely to let him leave before the close of the January transfer window.

Whenever Tunisia's Afcon campaign comes to an end, Mejbri will return to Carrington for the second half of the season.

And given he'll likely have a lighter international schedule next year, expect Mejbri to have an even longer list of admirers this summer.