Manchester City wanted to keep Rabbi Matondo, the 20-year-old winger who is now being linked with a loan move to Stoke City.
Matondo turned down two contract offers to make the £11.3m switch to Schalke in January 2019, hoping to follow the fast-track to elite football shown by his old youth teammate Jadon Sancho.
He had been training with the first team squad under Pep Guardiola, who said: “I know how good he is, incredibly fast winger, and a young talent.”
Incredibly fast is right.
When Man City held sprint tests in the summer of 2018, he outpaced Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kyle Walker by running 20 metres in just 2.62 seconds.
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 was signed 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, who was born in Liverpool, grew up in Cardiff and supported, whisper it, Arsenal.
“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. Matondo and Ahmet Kutucu are expected to leave on loan.
He has been left out of Gross’s first match day squad with what has been described as “stomach problems”.
Crystal Palace and Brighton have been linked in the past few days, as well as Bournemouth and Watford in the Championship.
WalesOnline reported: “Serie A giants Atalanta remain keen admirers, but a move to Italy looks unlikely due to the effects of Brexit and the country’s rules over non-EU players.
“The nature of the current landscape means that a return to England, nearly two years after the player left Manchester City, now looks the most likely.”
Matondo’s previous experience of ‘senior’ football in England came in the Football League Trophy for Man City under-21s.
He had joined for a small compensation fee from Cardiff City in 2016/17, just as Tyrese Campbell was heading to Stoke in search of a clearer pathway to a first team.
Now it is claimed he is being lined up as a temporary replacement at Stoke for Campbell, who had been in match-winning form before he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
O’Neill said this week: “When it comes to those really top end and possibly younger players that you feel can make a difference, I would imagine we’re trying to look at those players the same way everyone is.
“That’s the experience I had last January. And ultimately we found the solution within our building in Tyrese.
“We looked at players like Rhian Brewster and we had looked at players like Eddie Nketiah.
“Those were the players that everyone wanted. But obviously we had the solution in Tyrese and as I say that’s the challenge of the transfer window.”
Why should you sign up?
In our daily Stoke City bulletin, we’ll be bringing you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces, as well as the key talking points for fans.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article and hit sign up.
If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.
All you have to do is click here and punch your email. And what’s more, it’s absolutely free!
He added: “We identified the players we wanted some time ago. It’s been a constant process. Obviously, when Tyrese’s injury was diagnosed to the extent it was, it put us in a more of an emergency state to find that right type of player as well.
“It is a slow process and it’s quite a frustrating process. Ultimately, and particularly for loan players, you’re never in control of that situation.
“It’s obviously the parent club that controls that and you have to deal with the player, the agent, the club, and hopefully, they see you as a good option for the boy in terms of his development.
“But I think for this season, more than any other, there’s a shortage of players because the bigger squads in the Premier League, and because of Covid, are probably keeping more players in their own squads as opposed to possibly younger players going out on loan.
“And that’s the market where everyone’s possibly looking for that real quality which can make a difference in the second half of the season.”