Introducing Rabbi Matondo the rugby-loving new Stoke City winger who outpaced Raheem Sterling


Rabbi Matondo has already made a reference to Stoke City’s Premier League peak under Mark Hughes, changing his location on Twitter to Stokealona.

He should relish the other side of Stoke’s top flight character too, even if – whisper it – he grew up as an Arsenal fan.

The “one-nil to the rugby team” chant that used to rile Arsene Wenger should be relished by a jet-heeled winger who was always happy with an oval ball too.

Harry Trelawny, his old PE teacher at Llanishen High in Cardiff, told WalesOnline: “He joined us in year 9 and he was always a larger than life character, just constantly bubbling. He was already on the books at Cardiff City and was already highly thought of, but the thing we loved about Rabbi was that he’d get involved in everything.

“Every week he’d put himself forward to play rugby, but we’d never let him because we knew we had to wrap him up in cotton wool a little bit because of his football.

“I always remember, when we were playing our inter-form rugby championship, Rabbi was actually in line to play for England under-15s against Mexico a few days later, and he was literally begging us to play.

“A man went down and he ran on without us looking, made a 40-yard run and was on the end of massive tackle at the end of it. He got up with a smile on his face. That was how he was.”

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He’s 20 now and joins Stoke on loan from Schalke – there are reports in Germany that it might include a purchase option but both clubs are keeping schtum – with a reputation as one of the quickest players in the world.

When he as called up to Wales under-21s at the age of 17, former Port Vale boss Rob Page said: “His favourite position is wide left and he’s got pace I’ve never seen a player have before.

“He’s exciting when he has the ball and he can get past players. I’ve seen him play at Man City numerous times and he’s got a bright future in front of him.”

At that stage he had only just joined Manchester City, where Tyrese Campbell was going the other way and eyeing a clearer path to the first team at Stoke.

He was fast-tracked through the age groups and in the summer of 2018 recorded the fastest sprint tests at the club. He did 20 meters in 2.62 seconds, which was quicker than Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker.

“It turned out my time was the fastest in the academy, and it later came out that it was the fastest in the whole club,” he later said.

“I’m not too sure about that personally, but that’s what they said, and as you know there’s some really fast players at Manchester City.

“I’m not really bothered by it, but of course everyone’s going to talk about it, if it is true. There’s nothing I can do about that.”

This season, despite knee injuries limiting him to only three starts, he has been the third quickest player in the Bundesliga. He recorded a speed of 35.66kmh against Freiburg, only behind Kingsley Coman (35.68) and Alphonso Davies (35.94).

He made the leap to Germany in January 2019 when Domenico Tedesco was Schalke manager – “When Schalke got in touch, I wanted to see how good I actually am and how good I can actually be (at senior level),” he told The Athletic last March – but the club has had four managers since then, including club legend Huub Stevens, who has twice stepped in as caretaker.

One was former Huddersfield boss David Wagner, who tried to instil a high pressing game.

“There are a lot of things we’ve talked about, like decision-making in and around the box. When to dribble, when to pass,” said Matondo.

“Obviously, I’m like a guy who kind of takes risks. Maybe you’ll see me trying to dribble in my own half… so sometimes, I get given limited touches (in training).

“I’ll get given tasks I need to do in order to stop me taking these kind of touches in these areas. We did speak a lot at the start. He told me what he wants from me and what I needed to improve on and stuff like that.”

Now, however, Schalke are bottom of the table without a win in 13 games this season. They didn’t win any of their last 16 of last term either.

Christian Gross has been parachuted in as new coach and sporting director Jochen Schneider is trying to create room to manoeuvre in a bloated squad.

The bet365 Stadium will host pre-season dinner

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So in stepped Michael O’Neill and his left-hand man Andy Cousins, who has strong Man City connections, as well as assistant Billy McKinlay.

He may not have played all that much recently but the fact he was genuinely in the little black books of Manchester United and Real Madrid only a few months ago is a sign of his potential.

O’Neill had said he was looking for a bit of magic – “Something at the top end of the pitch just to give us a little spark,” said the manager – and that’s what Matondo hopes to deliver.

“I like to take risks in the final third,” he said. “I like to dribble and use my pace and hopefully I can add some goals and assists and help the team climb the table.”

There are 23 league games left to do that and Campbell’s message to his old mate is quite simple.

“Just do your thing,” he said. “And I’ll make sure I’m back in the summer.”





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