Rabbi Matondo insists he was not inspired by Jadon Sancho to try his luck in German football – but the success of his old Manchester City clubmate certainly helped.
Born in Liverpool, but raised in Cardiff, Matondo is bidding to win his fourth cap in Slovakia on Thursday night and play only his second senior match of the season.
It’s not easy holding down a starting place at Schalke 04 in Germany and Matondo has only made one Bundesliga appearance so far this season.
But he has high hopes of emulating the success of Sancho at Dortmund, a move which helped pave the way for his former teammate to follow him to Germany.
The two talented teenagers who are now plying their trade in the Bundesliga are both are on international duty for their respective country’s this week – Sancho with England and Matondo with Wales.
Matondo has headed to Slovakia with Ryan Giggs’ squad high on confidence having scored his first goal for Schalke last month. Now he wants to do the same with Wales.
“If I can do as well as Jadon has done so far then I will be really happy. He is doing well and hopefully he continues to do so,” said Matondo, who was snapped up in an £11m transfer by Schalke earlier this year.
“He is a great player. I have always known that since being at Manchester City with him how good he can be and how good he will be. Hopefully, he can help me as well.
“I’ve always watched Jadon, even when we were young. He didn’t make me move to Germany, but of course he is doing so well there and when it came around I thought ‘why not?’”
Matondo could have played alongside Sancho in the England team and actually appeared for England – he was born in Liverpool – at Under 15 level. But there is no doubting where his loyalties lie these days.
After scoring his goal against Leipzig on September 28 – Welsh teammate Ethan Ampadu was the bench for the home side – he reacted to a Tweet that suggested he was the latest ‘British’ player to score in the Budesliga with a little reminder of his homeland.
“I am Welsh and that’s why I put it out there. We all see what goes on and I put my little opinion on it,” he added in his broad Tremorfa accent.
“Everyone knows I am happy playing for Wales. It has always been Wales for me – I grew up in Cardiff, went to school in Cardiff and have friends and family in Cardiff.”
Life in Germany is a little quieter than he has been used to growing up in the Welsh capital and then Manchester, but he is loving the experience both on and off the field. If he always believed in his talent, he never dreamt he would be playing in the Bundesliga at the age of 19.
“When I was younger I always believed in myself. I always thought ‘you will be playing at a good level when you are 17, 18, 19’,” he said.
“That’s what I am doing at the moment and, hopefully, I can keep improving. But when I was growing up I never thought I’d be playing in Germany.
“I’ve still got a lot to improve on and learn, but I’m happy with how things are going. I’m enjoying it in Germany, although where I live there is not much to do – it is quiet in Gelsenkirchen.
“I’m not around any distractions of living in Cardiff or Manchester with my friends. It’s nice to be around your friends, but I think being alone I just do more for myself and that’s improved me.
“I’m just going out, playing football and doing little extras, going to the gym and stuff like that. And eating good food.
“I go on YouTube a lot and watch Gordon Ramsey to what I can cook up. I try to copy him, and I try my best, but it’s not quite similar.”
As well as learning to cook, Matondo is also learning German with some of the other younger players at his club. He admits to struggling with some of the well-known the complexities of the language.
“It’s tough to learn, but I’m trying my best. There are three or four us at the club who are learning German and, hopefully over the next couple of months, I will be able to learn it properly,” he added.
“I think it is important to learn the language, even though most of the boys can speak English. I feel like it’s important not just in football, but also when you go out anywhere.”