Hannibal Mejbri will be hoping that his loan from Manchester United to Sevilla goes better than that of Antony Martial in 2022. Martial arrived on a big contract and with ambitions of pushing second-placed Sevilla to the La Liga title. He scored one goal in an utterly unmemorable stint and they finished fourth.
Mejbri, 20, will be loaned for the rest of the 2023/24 season with Sevilla having the option to buy him for £14 million plus £3 million in add-ons. United have a buy-back option until June 2026, and a sizeable sell-on fee if he is sold elsewhere.
It’s the latest in a series of similar deals involving United’s academy graduates, demonstrating a greater willingness than in the past to let young talent leave while they are still developing. The club recognises that not every graduate will become a first-team regular at United and that they need to produce a return on their investments in young players.
It also helps with the club’s Financial Fair Play obligations. Mejbri cost €5 million when United signed him from Monaco in 2019. He played for the youth teams and also the club’s under-21s under coach Neil Wood.
“Hannibal is a great kid,” Wood, who coached him for two years, told The National. “He has a good football intelligence and will give everything for the good of the team. He’s a really likeable lad once you connect with him. He will go above and beyond for you.”
Wood also rates his technical ability. “He’s technically gifted but can also add more goals and assists to his game. He obviously needs to improve with the petulance-side of his game because he leaves himself open by taking cheap yellow cards, but I wish him well and think he’ll do well.”
Mejbri’s issue is that he’s moved to a struggling club who are nowhere near the level of the one Martial joined two years ago. The Andalusian side sit 17th in La Liga, with only three wins and 16 points from 20 games.
Sevilla have won once in the league since September. They are in serious danger of being relegated while as reigning Europa League holders. In Europe this term Sevilla failed to win any of their six Champions League games and failed to even make a return to the Europa League, a competition they’ve won six times since 2006. This is a team who competed in the European Super Cup final as recently as August and took Manchester City all the way before losing on penalties.
Last season they should have been knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United, who led 2-0 after 24 minutes in the first leg, until goals in the 84th and a 92nd minute saw them draw 2-2 at Old Trafford. That gave the players previously unseen belief, which they carried through in a 3-0 home win.
However, the team are on to their third manager of the season and there’s institutional instability.
Jose Maria del Nido Carrasco – a lawyer and son of long-time president Jose Maria del Nido Benavente – is now the president, and even his dad is critical of him. It's like something out of a Cervantes novel.
On the field, Jesus Navas and Marcus Acuna, two veteran full-backs who are supposed to be Sevilla’s best players, are struggling. The team, now coached by Quique Sanchez Flores, concedes awful goals, especially from set pieces. Fans are fuming. And while average home crowds are 35,000, just 28,366 saw their recent home defeat to Athletic Club. Sevilla have lost four of their past five league games.
Mejbri will likely go straight into the side as a number 10 – a more advanced role than he’s used to. The French-born Tunisian international has been known to Sevilla for years and he was watched while on loan at Birmingham City in England’s Championship last season, where his energy was noted. The Andalusians think he has an eye for goal and that Spain will suit him because of the slower tempo.
The loan could work well for both clubs. The 20-year-old should get to play the football he needs. He started only one Premier League game at United this season, a 1-0 win at Burnley, though he started in both Carabao Cup games.
Sevilla were 19th in La Liga a year ago and rose to 12th. On Wednesday, they beat Getafe 3-1 away in the Copa del Rey – Getafe featured another on-loan United player, Mason Greenwood. Sevilla ultimately finished last season in 11th. They could yet do that again, but their next league fixture is Sunday’s trip to top-of-the-table Girona and February includes games against Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and in-form Valencia. It’s exactly the type of challenge Mejbri wants to be part of, and Sevilla need his help.