Hannibal explains his evolution at United
It was a whirlwind end to the season for Manchester United's promising midfielder Hannibal.
The 18-year-old has crammed a lot into a short space of time. Even after the conclusion of the Premier League 2 season, and a campaign that led to him being presented with the Denzil Haroun Under-23s Player of the Year award, much has happened to the youngster.
Firstly, he was named on the bench at Wolves for the final game of the domestic senior season.
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Again showing his faith in youth, with the Reds holding a slender 2-1 lead, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer introduced the midfielder for the first time and he made his Premier League bow for the final eight minutes plus stoppage time at Molineux.
During his cameo, he showed what regular MUTV viewers will have grown accustomed to - control, composure and confidence on the ball and an ability to ride some tough challenges.
It was not time for a break, however, as he committed his international future to Tunisia and has already racked up three appearances for the African side - including his first start in the most recent victory over Mali.
Hence, life has been far from dull for Hannibal, whose game is being honed by those around him at the Aon Training Complex, ensuring he has already come a long way since the time he first walked through the doors of the Academy building.
"Moving to Manchester United from a club in France, a very decent club all the same, in Monaco, well it’s another level," he admitted in his first big interview with club media. "The game is quicker, more physical and more technical too, so you had to raise your game pretty quickly in order to be able to settle into the group.
“I think it was my family who helped me a lot because it’s not easy at all moving to another country. So they were a massive help to me. We’ve had French players at the club and also the coaches who’ve helped me too. Everyone has helped me and been great with me. All the staff at the club have always been there for me. And I thank them all for that.
“I think I’m fully settled in now. We do a lot more strength work in the gym but that’s all fine. I’ve adapted well I think, and everyone has helped me to do that.”
Under-23s lead coach Neil Wood decided to switch Hannibal to a left-sided midfield role, with an instant effect, after first trying the new position during a practice game. It helped the youngster excel in some outstanding performances for the Under-23s team and enabled him to combine seamlessly with like-minded attacking colleagues.
"I’m grateful to him [Wood] for that as it’s thanks to him that I’ve been able to learn how to play in a different position," Hannibal admitted. "I’m a bit more versatile now. I used to be able to play in and around the centre of midfield, now I play on the left, a bit on the right and even a bit further forward.
“So I thank him for what he has done, because if I want to play in the first team, I’m not always guaranteed to play in my usual position. I need to offer some alternatives to make it easier for the manager to play me.
That versatility is often tested in the younger-age groups and, when the Reds found ourselves struggling to break through Liverpool's massed ranks after they were reduced to 10 men in the FA Youth Cup tie earlier this year, Hannibal was tasked with dropping deeper to try to influence the game.
It led to him operating in a different role, and curbing his natural instinct to get forward, but proved another valuable lesson as he impressed, despite the Merseysiders holding on to their 1-0 lead and going all the way to the final before being beaten by Aston Villa. It was his only appearance of the season in his actual age-group, the Under-18s, but could end up being one that adds considerably to his overall education.
"That’s right because, as a team, we hadn’t really managed to get our game going," he said of the switch. "So I dropped a bit deeper, in order to get on the ball and start us playing. As the team gained in confidence I returned to my usual position and I think we played well. Unfortunately, we lost, but I think we’d played the better out of the two teams but there you go. There’ll be a next time, and this is what the learning process is all about."
That learning process has been ramped up for the teenager recently and is only going to increase when he returns to prepare for the 2021/22 campaign.