Donny van de Beek has not has the debut season he was hoping for at Manchester United.
Signed for £40million last summer (BBC), the Dutchman was hoping to be an integral part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. Indeed, many who had watched him excel at Ajax expected him to.
Yet, the reality is markedly different.
So far, Van de Beek has made just 13 Premier League appearances, scoring one goal. That strike came way back on his debut, when it looked like the 23-year-old would carry on where he left off in his homeland.
The form of Bruno Fernandes has played a major role in Van de Beek’s United struggles. But it could be a player at the opposite end of his senior career who causes him even more trouble next season.
Hannibal Mejbri recently signed a new long-term contract at Old Trafford. And anyone who has seen the classy 18-year-old in action knows United have a gem on their hands.
The Frenchman is quickly outgrowing U23 football and it would be no surprise if he stepped up next season.
Van de Beek could well blossom after a year at the club. After all, it took Fred an underwhelming debut campaign to get used to English football. Now the Brazilian is one of the first names on United’s team sheet.
Yet the Dutchman could soon face a challenge on both fronts. Not only to get onto the field ahead (or alongside) Fernandes, but to come off the bench before Hannibal.
Competition for places
Much will depend on the future of Paul Pogba. If the World Cup winner leaves, Van de Beek could step into the starting XI. But if he stays, the Dutchman and a French teenager could be competing for a chance off the bench and in cup competitions.
Hannibal is the real deal. There is a reason United spent a potential £9.1million on him (BBC). And he will not want to wait around for his chance.
You can rest assured that, when his United debut comes, he will seize it with both hands.
That could be more bad news for Van de Beek – who will only want to wait on the periphery for so long.