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Overlooked, relegated and reborn: Late bloomer Choupo-Moting follows in his idol’s footsteps

12 years ago, a relatively unknown young striker was making his debut for Cameroon’s national team, in the shadows of one of the greatest strikers football has ever produced, Samuel Eto’o. Now, Eto’o is the President of the Cameroon Football Federation and the young striker came of age, boasting the best form of his career for German powerhouse Bayern Munchen.

The name? Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, a true journeyman, born in Germany, who played in the Bundesliga and in the Premier League, travelled from a totally unglamourous place in Stoke City to Paris Saint-Germain and finally hit home at the FIFA World Cup.

Yet it is all about the journey, not the moment. Dubbed the “man with two hearts” by German television station “Deutsche Welle”, Choupo-Moting is one of the many Cameroon players born in other country. For the striker, his career started in Germany, at Hamburg SV and bloomed late when he returned in the Bundesliga.

“I will be forever grateful to my father and my mother, who are my role models,” said the striker in an interview for the official Bundesliga magazine five years ago, when he was plying his trade for Schalke 04.

But 20 years ago, Choupo-Moting was always present on a concrete pitch, who was usually full of puddles after every rain – which happens a lot in Hamburg, Germany’s biggest port – and with wooden goals. He always liked football and never tried basketball, the sport played by his father.

He started playing for small German teams, but his big break came when he was 15 years old and was snatched by Hamburg SV, a true powerhouse of the Bundesliga, which never relegated until 2018.

His potential was truly understood by many, having featured for the Germany Under-19 and Under-21 teams, also having German citizenship. But back then, Germany had a truly golden generation, with little room to spare in attack.

When Cameroon came calling, Choupo-Moting did not hesitate. “For me, the temptation to play a World Cup with superstars like Samuel Eto’o was simply too great,” said the striker immediately after his call-up. It was one of the best decisions of his life, but one that paid dividends only late in his career.

But his chances for Hamburg dried up. Despite being born and bred in the North of Germany, Choupo-Moting saw his chances dwindle, yet Inter Milan, Roma and Schalke were supposedly in for his services.

Nothing did materalise, therefore Choupo-Moting signed for a free for Mainz 05, another unglamourous choice. Stints for Schalke 04 and Stoke City followed, with everything culminating with the relegation from the Premier League, in what proved to be another setback.

It was a move that no one saw before and it proved to be disastrous, as Choupo-Moting really did not settle on the “Britannia Stadium”, an arena known for its winds and difficult conditions, featuring for a team that was one of the last to deploy a British style, with plenty of crosses and long balls.

Surely, Choupo-Moting’s chances were up in flames after a relegation to the Championship, as his CV looked to be one that seemed to be apt for a youngster with a big potential, that really failed to bring the goods when they were needed the most.

Instead, he received a lifeline from PSG, a star-studded team, who spent lavishly and brought superstars like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Choupo-Moting was happy to play second fiddle and be a supersub, scoring nine goals in 51 matches for the French champions, including a crucial goal in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Atalanta, which sent PSG to the semi-finals.

He was still in demand in 2020, when Bayern Munchen offered him a return to Germany. Choupo-Moting quickly accepted and after Robert Lewandowski left for Barcelona in the summer of 2022, he became the first choice for the Bavarian powerhouse.

Prior to Qatar 2022, the striker was the in-form player in the Bundesliga, wowing everybody with his skills, scoring 11 goals in 16 matches in all competitions for Bayern.

“I’m very happy to have him. We know we can rely on Choupo. He’s a great player all around. We’re happy that we have him,” said Bayern’s coach, Julian Nagelsmann, describing his striker.

And because every feel-good story deserves a happy ending, Choupo-Moting got his at Qatar 2022, when he scored his first goal in the FIFA World Cup, completing one of the most exciting comebacks in the tournament’s recent history, tying the game against Serbia in round 2 of the group phase, with an excellent strike.

It was Choupo-Moting’s chance to emulate his idol, Eto’o, and make happy millions of Cameroon fans. At 33, the striker could not have hoped for a better story. And it is the one that keeps on giving. Four years after a relegation in the second English league, Choupo-Moting shines for both club and country.

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