Cologne - “He’s a very focused player with a level head, but he’s also got that relaxed way about him that you need if you want to hit the ground running at a big club like this,” said FC Schalke 04 sporting director Horst Heldt of summer signing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting recently.
Heldt’s praise for the 25-year-old could hardly be more accurate. In his first six league appearances for Schalke, Choupo-Moting already had three goals and two assists to his name, but it was not so much his numbers as the way he went about his duties that emphasised how much of a leader he has become at the Veltins Arena.
Born and raised in Hamburg, Choupo-Moting may not have the same emotional connection to Schalke as Julian Draxler or Max Meyer, but he has started every one of the club’s eleven league matches this term, missing just 39 minutes of action, and is evidently as valued by new coach Roberto Di Matteo as he was by the latter’s predecessor Jens Keller.
Meyer, Tranquillo Barnetta and Chinedu Obasi have been in and out of the team of late, while Draxler, Jefferson Farfan and Leon Goretzka are currently sidelined. Sidney Sam, a Germany international who arrived with a big reputation from Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the summer, has also struggled to hold down a regular first-team berth since joining the club. In a highly competitive squad, therefore, Choupo-Moting has really been the only constant for die Knappen in attacking midfield, and that is unlikely to change even when the injured players return.
The complete player
What is striking about watching the rangy winger in action this season is just how at home he looks wearing the blue of Schalke, a club where ups and downs are the norm and pressure, on account of UEFA Champions League participation, habitual top-four expectations and a fan base ranked as one of the country’s largest, is far greater than at Mainz.
Never rushed on the ball, he possesses athleticism reminiscent of Draxler in being able to glide past players with ease, has the dexterity of Meyer to retain possession in tight spaces and rivals Huntelaar in his ability to hold up the ball. And, of course, he can finish: ten goals last season for Mainz and four in all competitions so far this term, including one in the Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund. “In football terms, there is nothing better than scoring in a derby,” he beamed after the game.
Scarcely has his willingness to take on responsibility been more clearly displayed than on Matchday 3 in the Champions League against Sporting Clube de Portugal. With the scores level at 3-3, Di Matteo’s men were awarded a stoppage-time penalty. Huntelaar, his tail up from having already scored in the game, stepped up, but Choupo-Moting stopped him, placed the ball down himself and calmly converted the goal that may yet secure the club’s progress to the knockout stages.
It was an act of gumption that impressed even Huntelaar himself, who revealed afterwards: “I wanted another goal but 'Choupo' told me he wanted to take it to make up for his mistake.” No wonder, then, that Heldt continues to speak in such dulcet tones of the Cameroon international, one of his most astute acquisitions; “I think he understood immediately what you need to do to be accepted quickly at Schalke.”
Check out FC Schalke 04’s top ten Bundesliga goals on our official YouTube channel: