Manchester United’s decision to give Juan Mata a new contract confused many. When you consider the Spaniard has managed just one appearance this season, that call looks increasingly bizarre.

Some United fans feel that, rather than keeping an ageing fringe player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have given Mata’s spot to a youngster. And few are more deserving than Hannibal Mejbri.

For now, Mata continues to make match-day squads while the teenager settles for U23 football. But that could all change in January.

According to the Manchester Evening News, Mata is pondering a potential exit. And his future could be intrinsically linked with Hannibal’s.

If the 33-year-old leaves, it could open a path to the first-team for the Tunisia international. There would still be a lot of work to do, but Hannibal deserves the spot on the bench that Mata has taken seven times already this season.

Manchester United v Brentford - Pre-season Friendly
(Photo by Daniel Chesterton/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Mata’s only start came in the Carabao Cup and he struggled to make his mark in the defeat. He has missed the last two league games all together and his time at United is coming to an end.

Now is the time to look forward. That means giving Hannibal the priceless opportunity of being on the substitutes’ bench in big games and, when the opportunity allows, getting minutes.

Mata may sign a pre-contract agreement and leave next summer. He could be sold for a small fee in January. Either way, Hannibal should be the next in line.

 

Time for the new guard

There is a reason United spent millions on him when he was only 16. Hannibal has been impressing in first-team training and his time will come.

The issue is, that some feel it should already have come. The 18-year-old would have got a lot more out of starting against West Ham in the cup than Mata did.

It could have been the beginning of something special, not the continuation of a stalling legacy.

Mata will leave eventually, as will Nemanja Matic. That frees up space for the next generation.

For now, the Spaniard’s bets work should be carried out on the training field. He can help United’s teenagers develop and then step aside, allowing them to get vital minutes.

United have already seen the likes of Angel Gomes and Largie Ramazzani leave in pursuit of regular football. Hannibal should stay for the long haul, but don’t be surprised if Mata’s ultimate exit is pivotal to his progress.

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