Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is one of the central narratives of a Champions League tie between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.
You’re not alone if you’re wondering how on earth that’s happened. But maybe we shouldn’t be as surprised.
In the UK, we’re often guilty of viewing the Premier League as the be-all and end-all, while virtually discounting other leagues and competitions just because they aren’t as accessible to us as the English top flight.
That’s how Choupo-Moting has got to be defined as ‘that guy who played for Stoke’, when in reality, his time in England was a fairly insignificant stop-gap in an otherwise enviable career.
Prior to joining the Potters on a free transfer in 2017, he was seen as a consistent striker in the Bundesliga. Starting out at Hamburg, he kick-started his career with a move to Mainz in 2011, where he forged a relationship with Thomas Tuchel that would later come back to pay dividends.
He furthered his reputation with a move to Schalke in 2014, and a hat-trick at home to Stuttgart set the tone for two strong seasons. He was a player to be genuinely feared throughout his time in Germany, known as much for his powerful dribbling in wide positions as his clinical finishing ability.
An injury-ravaged 2016/17 season left him seeking a fresh start, and always keen to broaden his horizons and try something new, he was persuaded by Mark Hughes to join Stoke – a move he doesn’t regret despite the way it ended.
“I love languages and like to gain experience abroad, and I’ve always wanted to play in the Premier League,” he said, quoted by Stoke-on-Trent Live. “The year there was a lot of fun – even if we unfortunately got relegated in a bitter way.”
His sole season with Stoke proved to be a chaotic one. Two of his five goals for the club came in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, but some early promise gave way to a disastrous run of form in the second half of the season.
Mark Hughes was sacked after an FA Cup defeat to Coventry City, and they went 13 games without a win between January and May.
Net result: relegation.
Choupo-Moting had been a first-team regular throughout his sole season in England, but despite his contract running until 2020, he didn’t fancy hanging around to play in the Championship.
So when given the chance to rejoin Tuchel, who had just taken the reins at Paris Saint-Germain, he didn’t take much convincing.
Stoke were in a mess both on and off the pitch, and were content just to get his wages off the books. Tuchel, meanwhile, wrapped up a dirt-cheap deal for a player he knew he could trust – Choupo-Moting had scored 20 goals in 74 games after he’d brought him to Mainz.
He knew he was never going to be a starter in a Paris side who boasted an obscene amount of talent. Tuchel had Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani at his disposal, but Choupo-Moting was still a regular in the squad and a regular off the bench.
He was a far more important part of Tuchel’s first two seasons in France than you would think. His stoppage time winner off the bench against Atalanta sent PSG into the Champions League semi-finals, and he finished up with nine goals and three assists; a goal involvement for every 171 minutes he played with the Ligue 1 champions.
His role wasn’t fashionable but it was functional, and there was soon to be another superpower chapping at his door. Now 31, he’d experienced it all in football: he’d scored goals in three different countries, he’d played an extensive amount of European and international football, and he was just the player Bayern needed to provide cover for Robert Lewandowski.
And that’s how he earned the fifth permanent transfer of his career…all of them without a fee changing hands.
Since joining Bayern, Choupo-Moting has proved his worth. He’s played his way into Hansi Flick’s plans in the absence of Robert Lewandowski, and continues to pop up with vital goals: he just scored against his former side in the quarter-final first leg.
All going to plan this season, Choupo-Moting will get his hands on a league title for a third successive season, while he could well be a European champion by the time the campaign is out.
He’s also the best player ever whose name fits perfectly to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme tune. Probably.
Not too bad for a Stoke City reject.