That is how Bayern Munich’s website described the astonishing current form of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Before launching into our comparison of the player to fine wine, let’s start with a confession.
Just over a month ago, this column was planning a piece on out-of-form African footballers who will surely make their national team squads for the 2022 Fifa World Cup. The premise was that these players will be there not due to their current (unimpressive) form, but because of the presence and experience they lend, in addition to their coaches’ trust.
Choupo-Moting was one.
At the time, Cameroonian journalist Lesley Angu told SuperSport: “It’s true he’s not in form, but if there’s someone you never want to write off, it’s that guy.”
And how prophetic.
In the intervening 30 days or so, the forward has astounded the most optimistic pundits with his output: nine goals in all competitions and some truly breathless playmaking for Die Roten suggest he will not only be in Qatar, but will now have to start games for the national team.
If there was any doubt, his two poacher’s goals in two minutes at the weekend put paid to that. But how does this remarkable form impact the Indomitable Lions?
THE BACKUP MAN
Having signed on a free from PSG in October 2020, Choupo-Moting was always going to be a backup at Germany’s biggest club.
He was brought to Bavaria because the club needed a second striker. A second striker, because the main one was a guy called Robert Lewandowski, holder of more than a dozen club records with the side, and immovable. Even then, Choupo-Moting has played 29 and 22 league games respectively in the last two seasons. Not bad for a backup.
A look at his career, spanning seven clubs in three countries, establishes a pattern: like at Bayern, he is rarely the main man, but a very good option to have.
The reason the 33-year-old has never lacked suitors is that he does not have a glaring weakness as a player: footwork, good; shooting, good; heading, good, linkup play, good.
“His youth coaches and those who worked with him when he was growing said he was always very good. He just had an attitude problem,” notes Michael Postl, editor at Germany’s biggest sportmagazin, kicker.
In the last few seasons, injury niggles have been a bother. Since joining Bayern, Choupo’s been out eight times already (including once for Covid-19 and once for quarantine), being unavailable for 18 matches and 112 days of football as a result. A top-level striker cannot be relied on with these numbers.
To complicate things further, he missed pre-season with hip and groin problems, at a time when he was the most experienced centre forward available, alongside 17-year-old Mathys Tel and Joshua Zirkzee, who has since left to Italy. With Sadio Mané coming in from Liverpool, the Bavarians will start the season well.
NOW THE MAIN MAN
But in mid-October, a thigh injury to Leroy Sané and the need for a focal point of the Bayern attack (Mané was playing on the wings) left little choice for coach Julian Nagelsmann than to field the former Stoke City man.
The response? Five goals in four games. 10 goals in 14 games this season. Three assists overall. A career-best streak of goals in six-consecutive matches. Champions League Man-of-the-Match against Inter Milan. Two braces.
“The second one was a bit odd,” Nagelsmann noted following the player’s two goals against Hertha Berlin on Saturday. “But I’m not surprised about how he is playing. He’s got the quality, and he’s showing it at the moment.”
In a sense, Choupo-Moting has been lucky, as he seems to have been many times in his career. It is common knowledge that Nagelsmann’s fluid system was not likely to be kind to the central African, who thrives as a classic centre-forward. But in recent months, watchers have complained that Bayern have tended to be too predictable at times.
It’s a bit like the problem Manchester City had before Erling Haaland came in. Lots of possession, lots of movement in the final third, lots of chances created, but they lacked a killer.
However, in this most grueling of seasons, the Cameroonian is exactly what the Bavarians may need in their squad to wrestle Bundesliga top spot from stubborn Union Berlin: a fox in the box, someone to lunge himself at seemingly hopeless situations, a predator.
Manuel Neuer, making a return this weekend since treatment for skin cancer, also noted why Choupo will be key: “He’s such an important player, with how he occupies defenders and creates space for us out wide. And, of course, he keeps scoring and setting others up.”
This form has come at the right time for the Indomitable Lions, who have been tipped by almost every major bookmaker to exit the coming World Cup at the group stage.
MAIN MAN FOR COUNTRY TOO?
This will be the player’s third World Cup, having there in 2010 and 2014. Heading to Qatar, his appetite for making the best out of situations was, again, evident – even though he started just two of Cameroon’s eight qualifiers, he still scored four goals.
“That’s just the kind of player he is,” Postl of Kicker notes. “He once played for [FC Nurenberg] in Germany with a team that was not very good and still got seven goals that season.”
There’s a small issue, though.
Traditionally, Cameroon favour the 4-4-2, but anytime Choupo-Moting has been available, his utility has been the reason why he has rarely played as a centre-forward. Instead, he’s deployed as a second striker (as was the case at Afcon 2019, behind Stephane Bahoken).
In the last two years, the Indomitable Lions have played 4-3-3 a lot and, again, the player has not been able to convince coaches to play him upfront ahead of Vincent Aboubakar; the wing is where he’s featured.
Indeed, at this year’s Afcon, he was so ineffective in the role that he and coach Tony Conceicao were openly hostile at each other. Choupo sulked constantly, and it was rumored that he will retire from international football after the tournament. The gaffer, following a failure to win the Afcon on home soil, was axed and Choupo stayed – only to be shunted to the wings again in the team’s crucial World Cup playoff first leg against Algeria.
It did not work.
Days later, in the second leg away in Blida, new coach Rigobert Song went 4-4-2. He had an excellent game, opening the scoring in the eventual 2-1 win.
Now, with qualification secured and Choupo-Moting on form, how will he be used against Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia? For now, it seems that for the first time in his national team career, he could be the main man.
After 12 years of being an Indomitable Lion, he would have earned his moment.
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