Hannibal Mejbri has been enthusiastically unveiled by the Tunisian Football Federation and has played all three of their friendlies this month, starting with the 1-0 victory over Mali last week.
Manchester United tied 18-year-old Mejbri to a new three-year contract in March and his Wolves debut in May was expected. An injury delayed his entry and Tunisia barely wasted a second in convincing Mejbri to leave France, for which he played at the youth level.
Radès hosted Tunisia’s triple friendly against the Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria and Mali.
Mejbri grazed the post of his international arc against DR Congo in an auspicious 45 minutes of polished passing. Mejbri made 23 out of 25 precise passes and a dribble was interrupted by an opponent’s elbow.
He was the victim of seven fouls in his three outings. Many Algerian, Congolese and Malian internationals are unlikely to be MUTV subscribers, but they were as cynical in their fouling of Mejbri as the budding ax-men at the Under-23 level in England.
Against Derby last month, Mejbri saw yellow a second time for asking for an opponent to be booked. His coach, Neil Wood, was unhappy with the level of refereeing at the reserve level, especially the lack of protection Mejbri received. African officials were equally lenient.
Mejbri demanded censorship against Sékou Koïta from Mali and was asked to calm down by the official. Two Malian players were dismissed.
Against DR Congo and Algeria, Mejbri emerged and operated from the left before making his debut against Mali. His position against the three was fluid, rather than fixed, as Mejbri fell deeply and squeezed as high as the corner flag.
Tunisia have qualified for four of the last six World Cups and were seconds away from holding England to a draw in Russia three years ago. Their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 begins in September and Mejbri’s development is accelerating towards a possible winter final appearance next year.
Wood was adamant. Mejbri was not ready for a loan last season. He is now and the dilemma is whether United have room for him when Jadon Sancho is about to arrive and Juan Mata could still stick around for another season.
For those who have been refused requests to speak with Mejbri – a passable English speaker already – it was a shock to see him so present on an international mission.
“We were able to react after the defeat [to Algeria] and this is the most important, ”said Mejbri. “It feels good to play for your country.
“It’s good to start with a victory [against DR Congo]. I was well integrated into the group, thank you to the whole team, thank you to the coach.
“We are preparing for big competitions, against big teams. Now we have a game against Algeria and God willing we will give all we can to bring the victory back. “