Weston McKennie (l.) has been showing Rabbi Matondo (r.) the ropes at Schalke following the latter's arrival from Manchester City. - © imago/Pakusch
Weston McKennie (l.) has been showing Rabbi Matondo (r.) the ropes at Schalke following the latter's arrival from Manchester City. - © imago/Pakusch
bundesliga

Rabbi Matondo: "Weston McKennie only had positive things to say about Schalke"

Schalke's latest teenage sensation Rabbi Matondo says he has no regrets about leaving England for Germany - having sought out Weston McKennie for advice prior to his move - and is now hoping to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Jadon Sancho by lighting up the Bundesliga.

Matondo arrived in January from Manchester City, having never made a senior appearance for the Premier League champions – although an impressed Pep Guardiola did include him in a number of first-team training sessions. Renowned for his pace, the 18-year-old winger acknowledged that he had probably chosen the harder path by moving abroad.

"It would have been easier to just stay in England," he explained on Schalke's official website. "But I really wanted to take that step. Schalke are the perfect team to fulfil my goals. When I heard that they were interested in me, I was very excited. I don't feel pressure, I see it as more of a challenge. I'm a young player and still have a lot to learn."

Rabbi Matondo made his Bundesliga debut for Schalke on Matchday 20 against Borussia Mönchengladbach. - imago/RHR-Foto

Sancho was also young – even younger than Matondo – when he traded the north-west of England for Germany's Ruhr district as a 17-year-old, leaving City for Schalke's bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund. Yet within two years the outrageously talented teen has become a household name, a full England international, and one of the first names on the BVB teamsheet.

There was already a steady stream of British youngsters trying their luck in Germany, but Sancho's recent success has opened the floodgates. Matondo is the latest to have plumped for a Bundesliga Brexit, and believes that working under Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco – very young himself by coaching standards – will put him on a fast track to the top.

"I chose Schalke because I liked the manager's ideas, to improve me and help me become a good player, and hopefully I can take the next step," he admitted. "It's a great club. The fans are great, loud and very supportive. In terms of football it's tough but it's good, I like it. It'll be a challenge for me to improve."

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco (r.) also played a key role in Matondo's decision to move to Germany. - imago/RHR-Foto

After moving to Dortmund in summer 2017, Sancho had to wait several months before getting his first taste of the Bundesliga in October, and only made his first start the following January. Matondo barely had time to unpack his bags before he was thrown on as a late substitute in the 2-0 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 20. A few days later, he made Tedesco's teamsheet in the 4-1 DFB Cup win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.

"I want to get as many minutes as possible under my belt," the Welshman admitted. "I'm just very motivated, and want to improve every day in training."

And what about that phenomenal burst of pace, which reportedly made him the quickest player at City? "I can't say exactly how fast I am," he laughed. "But I can beat a lot of people with my pace!"

The Liverpool-born youngster, who grew up Cardiff, has already matched Sancho in one respect: last November, he won his first senior cap for Wales, coming off the bench in a friendly defeat to Albania.

Matondo made his first start for Schalke in the DFB Cup last-16 tie against Fortuna Düsseldorf. - 2019 Getty Images

"We have top international players and it's always good to come on for your country," he said afterwards. "I'm sure it will help at club level as well, because the whole world's watching. They'll recognise that if I can do it at the international stage, then surely I can do it for club."

Two months later, Matondo secured his move to the Bundesliga in the hopes of developing further. It would not be the first time that a rough diamond has emerged sparkling from the Gelsenkirchen mines – City's former Schalke winger Leroy Sane springs to mind – but Tedesco is wary of throwing his new recruit in at the deep end too early.

"He has huge potential," the 33-year-old tactician acknowledged. "He's extremely quick and good technically, but we mustn't forget he's still very young. That's why we'll give him the time he needs to find his feet at Schalke and in the Bundesliga."

Schalke's other winter signing, Jeffrey Bruma, has already taken Matondo under his wing as he settles into life in Gelsenkirchen, giving his new teammate lifts to training and helping him to negotiate a first meeting with the press. And it was the Royal Blues' USA midfielder Weston McKennie, rather than Sane, who gave the Welshman the inside scoop on the club.

Fellow January arrival Jeffrey Bruma (r.) has taken Matondo under his wing at Schalke. - 2019 Getty Images

"I didn't speak to Leroy just before signing," he explained. "I got in touch with Weston McKennie. He only had positive things to say to me, and it's all been true so far!”

Schalke will face City in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, with the first leg at the Veltins-Arena next Wednesday. And while Matondo is by no means guaranteed to feature against his former side, his game-changing speed could give Tedesco some food for thought.

For now, though, the 18-year-old is fully focused on Saturday's game at home to Freiburg ("I hope I'll play!"), in which the 14th-placed Royal Blues will be looking to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone. The young Dragon is in a hurry to make his mark on German football, and he could be setting fire to the Bundesliga in no time at all.

Andy Smith