Manchester United’s primary focus in the January transfer window was on trimming down the squad which, to an extent, they managed.
The two most high-profile exits were Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek, who both secured loan moves to Sevilla and Everton.
In the case of Van de Beek, he desperately needed to secure a move because he wasn’t getting the game time he needed at Old Trafford and with every game he sat on the bench, the spotlight on his future shone brighter.
When he joined United in the summer of 2020, it was expected he’d turn into one of the most effective Premier League midfielders after his eye-catching form under Erik ten Hag at Ajax.
But it just hasn’t worked out for him, which is why a move to Goodison Park has been spoken of as a good move for him at this stage of his career.
It’s fair to also say that this could also have negative implications for the Dutchman due to the circumstances United now find themselves in.
With the departure of Van de Beek and the trimming of the squad, Rangnick only has Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard as his current attacking midfielders. If we’re assuming the out-of-contract Lingard won’t get much game time following his near exit in January, it leaves United with a sizable gap in that area of the pitch.
However, the emergence of a United youngster could solve the issue and, if he shines, would raise serious questions about the future of Van de Beek.
The person in question is Hannibal Mejbri.
19-year-old Mejbri has been on international duty in recent months, which included reaching the FIFA Arab Cup final. However, he suffered a personal setback after his Tunisia side were knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Africa Cup of Nations by Burkina Faso.
Despite this, he now has the chance to put his international travails aside and will relish the opportunity of being part of United’s senior setup until the end of the season, which Rangnick confirmed in the pre-match press conference ahead of tonight’s FA Cup fourth- round clash with Middlesbrough.
He said: “We have Hannibal included in the squad.
“He will, from now on, regularly train with us and be a regular member of the squad. He will also be part of the squad for tomorrow’s cup game.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen that much of him as he was with the national team. I saw him play in the tournament, not the Africa Cup of Nations but the one before [the Arab Cup].
“I saw him play in the final and, from what I’ve seen so far, I think he’s a promising talent. He deserves to be part of the group for the rest of the season and also part of the group for tomorrow’s game. “
Mejbri was reportedly attracting interest from a number of Championship clubs throughout January but he now has the chance to show Rangnick what he can do and tonight will likely afford him the kind of opportunity to provide he’s a ready-made alternative to turn to, as Anthony Elanga has been able to demonstrate since his promotion to the first-team setup. Progression to the fifth round of the FA Cup would potentially present him with more opportunities.
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If the French-born starlet is able to shine, then it could add to Van de Beek’s woes. Should Mejbri stand out, he could rise above the Dutchman in the pecking order and pose a real threat to his future at Old Trafford when he is forced to decide on his longer-term plans in the summer.
For now, all Van de Beek should be doing is concentrating on his football at Everton. If he himself flourishes under the guidance of Frank Lampard, it could be a win-win situation for United. His stock rises ahead of a potential sale and therefore his price tag increases or he returns to United better for the experience.
Meanwhile, at Old Trafford, Mejbri will be looking to capitalize on one of the blockers to a first-team berth being removed. On the evidence of his form elsewhere this season, he has every chance to give Rangnick another dilemma.
Could Mejbri’s potential emergence be a warning to Van de Beek? Follow our United On My Mind writer omar garrick on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.