Stoke fans were busy last Tuesday celebrating their team’s victory against Swansea in the Championship but their merry mood was surely dented a little when they learned that two of their former players were facing each other in the most anticipated Champions League game of the season so far.
From the Britannia Stadium to Anfield, Xherdan Shaqiri and Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting met again, only this time as opponents. That Shaqiri left Stoke for Liverpool in the summer is not really surprising; on the other hand, Choupo-Moting signing for PSG on the last day of the transfer window came as a real shock for a lot of Paris fans and football fans in general.
A quick look at some of the last forwards bought by the Ligue 1 champions since 2013 and one in particular stands out: Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Jese, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Choupo-Moting. So how did the former Stoke man end up at the Parc des Princes?
PSG needed a striker to cover for Cavani. They thought Timothy Weah, still only 18, wasn’t quite ready yet. They looked at a few pricier options but their hands were tied by financial fair play rules and also by the fact that no other big names would come to be the No. 2 option up front. Time was ticking and Tuchel still didn’t have the other option he wanted and needed. So the German manager found a plan B: enter Choupo-Moting, 29 years old, fresh off a lean season (five goals in 30 matches in the Premier League with Stoke) and available on a free transfer.
He wasn’t really a PSG-style recruit and was quickly the subject of many jokes on social media upon joining the club, but the Cameroon international has already made history. By scoring at Rennes last weekend only five minutes after coming on as a sub in his league debut, he became the third-quickest player to score a first goal in a first domestic game for Paris behind Jay Jay Okocha (67 seconds vs. Bordeaux, 1998) and Christophe Landrin (three minutes vs. Metz, 2005).
For context, it took Zlatan Ibrahimovic 64 minutes to open his account against Lorient in August, 2012. Meanwhile, Neymar had to wait 82 minutes at Guingamp to find the back of the net and Kylian Mbappe needed 59 before scoring at Metz last September.
Even though he’s not a big name and has never been a prolific striker — 11 goals was his best single-season tally, for Mainz in 2013-14 — Choupo-Moting ticked a lot of boxes for Paris. With his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and his profile of a target man, he brings something different to this team and he can also play wide or as a second striker. He works very hard on the pitch and is a team player, which makes him a rarity in the PSG dressing room at the moment. Despite being born in Germany, he speaks French very well due to his Cameroonian father so his adaptation has been easy. He has experience with 45 caps for Cameroon (13 goals) and has played at the 2014 World Cup, in European competitions and for big Bundesliga clubs like Schalke and Hambourg.
Choupo-Moting was free and on affordable wages, but most importantly he’s worked with Tuchel before. They were at Mainz for four years together. The manager got the best out of him there and took him to the next level. Tuchel pushed to get him in Paris and is very happy to have him in the squad.
The squad is happy to have him too. Choupo-Moting, who is really close to Lassana Diarra, Thilo Kehrer and Julian Draxler (the latter has the same agent), has brought good vibes and a lot of enthusiasm to the dressing room. He is a music lover, a street-art connoisseur, a basketball fan and a great dancer. “He always has a smile on his face and he is always in a good mood. It is refreshing,” a source in the club told ESPN FC.
“[Choupo-Moting] is always positive, even coming off the bench. He can have an impact even in just 10 minutes. He is very strong physically, which could be important for us on long balls if we decide to play more direct [football],” said Tuchel last weekend.
The signing of Choupo-Moting was mocked both in France and abroad but in the space of two games, at Liverpool last week — where he showed more determination, desire and motivation in his 10-minute cameo than most of the other players during the whole game — and at Rennes, with a 12 minute appearance and a goal last weekend, he is becoming a fan favourite. He could even start against Reims on Wednesday with Mbappe still suspended and Cavani a bit out of form.
Choupo-Moting could rarely do it on cold and rainy Tuesday night at Stoke in the Premier League. Will he do it in Paris? If nothing else, he’s off to a hot start.