10 young Manchester United academy graduates were handed their debuts for the club in 2019. Those that are hoping to follow in their footsteps are equally talented and equally hungry for their chance.
United In Focus looks at three young players that United fans have to look out for over 2020.
A Frenchman of Tunisian descent, Hannibal Mejbri has settled in well at United since a high-profile £9.3m move from AS Monaco in the summer. He was heavily sought after but the 16-year-old chose United ahead of some of Europe’s top clubs.
At Carrington, he’s had the support of French first-teamers, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. In addition to that, there’s his countryman Aliou Traore in the under-23s and Noam Emeran in the under-18s set-up.
Mejbri is a wonderful player to watch. He glides across the pitch with ease, rushes nothing and creates plenty. With good close control, he can dribble from the halfway line into the final third and pull defences apart.
Most regularly, though, he’s found dropping deep, desperate for the ball, before taking it forward with such a dribble or a penetrative pass.
A first team debut for the midfielder is unlikely in 2020 but he’s certainly one to watch. The majority of this season’s action has been in the under-18s with a couple of appearances in the under-23s.
His aim for 2020 has to be to force his way into a regular spot in the under-23s side by next season. Once in place there, it’ll be make or break. He’s very highly thought of at United, and back in France.
Just 17, Swedish winger Anthony Elanga is still eligible for the under-18s and for the FA Youth Cup squad. Like Mason Greenwood, he’s just too good to be brought back down, though.
A regular in the under-23s, Elanga has played every game bar two for Neil Wood’s side this year, including those in the EFL Trophy. At under-18s level, he’s popped up occasionally, scoring six goals and grabbing two assists in seven games.
Elanga is quick, has good control of the ball and is direct. He’s raw, and there’s no denying that. But with the experience of under-23s football up until May, he’ll improve his decision-making and his efficiency.
The challenge for 2020 is to continue to hold down his place in the under-23s before a potential loan move in the 2020/21 season.
United have been hesitant in terms of sending out too many players on loans but with a couple of players ahead of him, it may make sense for Elanga.
Tahith Chong is likely to depart and that could halt a loan move, though. Elanga would then be one of the back-up wingers for United, like Chong is now, alongside Largie Ramazani. It’s a big year in his career, there’s no doubt about that.
Mengi was one of the many academy players who travelled with United to Kazakhstan for the Astana defeat.
Mengi didn’t feature in that game and will have to wait for his United debut. However, his presence in the FA Youth Cup win against Lincoln City showed his leadership. It was the first time he’d dropped back down to the under-18s set-up for some months.
Mengi was accelerated into the first-choice defender in the under-23s after the departure of Lee O’Connor to Celtic.
He’s only 17 but has captained United at a number of levels, including in the under-16s. He was the likely captain of the under-18s until his promotion and he was indeed the skipper in the FA Youth Cup.
Composed on the ball and with an ever-improving reading of the game, Mengi is aided by a perfect physique for a modern centre-back. He’s tall, strong and quick. As a regular in the under-23s, things are moving quickly for Mengi, who grew up in Manchester.
Next season holds a number of possibilities. If United are to rid themselves of one or two of Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, there will be space for another back-up centre-back in that squad.
Mengi will likely stick around in the under-23s waiting for an opportunity in the first-team set-up. He deserves it.
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