In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com the 25-year-old talks about settling in at Schalke, his budding partnership with and his hopes with Cameroon at the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations.
bundesliga.com: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, you recently said that you wouldn’t class yourself as a classic centre forward. After scoring nine goals, making four assists and winning a place in bundesliga.com’s ‘Team of the Week’, that description seems rather apt, however…
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting: I’m happy with that return and of course I see myself as a striker. But I’ve played in various positions in attack in my career so far, and in that interview I wanted to make sure I was seen as flexible attacking player, and also wanted to differentiate myself from Huntelaar. For me, Klaas is your archetypal centre forward. He’s been showing us for years that he knows exactly where to be when the ball comes into the box.
bundesliga.com: You had productive spells at Hamburger SV, winning the Young Player of the Year in 2006/06, and at 1. FC Nürnberg and at 1. FSV Mainz 05, but you seem to have exploded into form since joining Schalke. Or would that description belittle what you achieved at your previous clubs?
Choupo-Moting: Schalke has definitely been a major forward step in my career, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I’m now playing for a top international club and one that’s regularly competing at the top end of the Bundesliga. Now I want to establish myself and develop over a longer period of time. At the moment I’m doing that very well but I never considered my previous clubs as stepping stones to better things. I learned a lot at all of them, things I’ve been able to draw on in my career.
'Perhaps we lacked a bit of desire'
bundesliga.com: Did your goal in the derby against Borussia Dortmund open the floodgates?
Choupo-Moting: I don’t think that goal has made much of an impact on my performances. But I did feel what it means to the region to win that game.
bundesliga.com: You’ve lit up match after match, even when the result wasn’t going Schalke’s way...
Choupo-Moting: Before every game I tell myself to help the team as much as I can. And if I can’t score or make goals, I at least want to fight 100 per cent. I hardly look at what people write about me, though. They’re subjective opinions. The main thing for me is that the club, the fans, the coach and my team-mates are happy with my performances.
bundesliga.com: Recently, sporting director Horst Heldt asked for more “greed” in terms of improvement.
Choupo-Moting: If you’re talking about games like the 2-1 loss to Köln, then there are lots of factors that need to be considered. We controlled the first half and had good chances in that game, but it could have well been that we didn’t have that bit of greed or desire to get the job done. On the other hand, people shouldn’t forget what we’d done in the previous few weeks. We’d won a lot of games, but they were matches that took their toll. And I think I can remember a statistic that teams that have played in the Champions League often have difficulties in their next league game.
bundesliga.com: In the last few years, Schalke have always been at their strongest when there was outside pressure on them and they created a siege mentality. Even in your short time here, have you noticed that phenomenon?
Choupo-Moting: That’s very hard to put into words, and if we knew why it was, we’d have put a stop to that months ago. I do think, though, that in the last few weeks we’ve been more consistent and played better football than at the start of the season. We know we can improve though.
'We want to set the record straight against Real'
bundesliga.com: You’ll need that fighting spirit in the Champions League especially against Real Madrid, whom your team-mate Huntelaar knows well of course...
Choupo-Moting: They are giants, everyone knows that. But that’s exactly why you compete in the Champions League, to play in games like that. Personally I’ve never played against them and I can’t wait for it. We want to set the record straight after last year, that’s obvious, but even if they’re the clear favourites, football is always unpredictable.
bundesliga.com: You’ve often talked about how good your understanding is with Huntelaar, so you must be delighted that he’s signed a new contract…
Choupo-Moting: That’s true, we get on really well, and everyone knows he’s a quality player and has done a lot with this club. And I think the club can look forward to achieving success with Schalke for a long time to come.
bundesliga.com: Should clubs listen to the opinions of players when it comes to transfers and contract extensions?
Choupo-Moting: Since the club and the coaching staff have close contact with the players and are at training every day, I know that every player is accepted in the squad. And I know that the directors are making the right decisions for the club.
bundesliga.com: Speaking about the 'right decisions', the club decided to dismiss Jens Keller as coach after a few months. Did you worry about your place in the team when that decision was made?
Choupo-Moting: To be honest, not for a second. My view is that performances get you into the team, regardless of who comes in. Jens Keller wanted me a lot and he played a big part me in me coming here. But that’s how football is and changes are inevitable sometimes. And anyway I’m delighted to be working under a coach like Roberto Di Matteo.
bundesliga.com: What have you made of him so far?
Choupo-Moting: My first impression was that he’s a very quiet guy and exudes a lot of authority. He’s very considered whenever he speaks and it says a lot about him that he’s won the Champions League and has worked with some of the best players in the world. I think he can still achieve a lot with us.
bundesliga.com: Will you be taking part in the first game of the Rückrunde, or will you be going to the Africa Cup of Nations?
'Cameroon can win the Africa Cup of Nations'
Choupo-Moting: At the moment, I’m fairly certain I’ll be at the Africa Cup of Nations.
bundesliga.com: That means you’ll have played an entire year straight, taking into account the FIFA World Cup…
Choupo-Moting: To be honest, I feel the extra burden of games even playing for Schalke after the englische Wochen this season, which I’d not experienced before. Gradually your body gets used to it though, and the important thing is to go about the situation professionally and make sure you always recharge your batteries. And sometimes if you are tired, you just get over it.
bundesliga.com: The Indomitable Lions used to be the toast of African football as the only African country to have reached a World Cup quarter-final. These days, after the World Cup, things are a little more troublesome…
Choupo-Moting: Everyone knows that a few things went wrong at the World Cup, and in terms of organisation and team discipline, there’s a lot that can be improved. In those circumstances, it’s not a surprise if the team performs poorly. Germany is perfect example of how the opposite is done. From back to front, everything is organised perfectly, and that’s the only way you can win things and have success. We have the quality on the pitch to do that, as do other African sides. Our team in qualification had a lot of new faces, so I’m excited to se what’s possible at this tournament.
bundesliga.com: Are Cameroon a team that can win the trophy?
Choupo-Moting: I think so, yes. Teams like us and Nigeria are always among the favourites to be champions, and in qualification. We did very well in a group that had Cote D’Ivoire, one of the best teams in the world. And people shouldn’t forget that no African country has been to as many World Cups as us.
bundesliga.com: You made a decision to represent Cameroon even after having played for Germany at youth level. With the knowledge you have now, the player you’ve become and Joachim Löw’s lack of strikers, would you have made a different decision?
Choupo-Moting: I’ve never regretted my decision and I don’t think I ever will. Obviously there are a few things in Cameroonian football that could work better, like I’ve said, but those are things you have to work on. Cameroon was close to my heart, though. I know the country well because my dad took me there all the time when I was a kid. I can separate the two nationalities easily. I cheered a lot when Germany won the World Cup, but the national team here is a bonus for me. My bread and butter and my priority is the Bundesliga.
Interview by Andreas Kötter