On 7 August 2017, Stoke City signed Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting on a free transfer, after the forward left Schalke upon the expiry of his contract.
The Potters were looking to replace the departed Marko Arnautovic, whose previous heroics had always been at the heart of the club’s success.
An unproven free signing with a patchy goal record has rarely been the answer to the question: ‘how do we adequately substitute a £25m player?’
But who knows? It could have been a masterstroke.
Since meeting one another for the first time on a (probably) cold, wintery night in Staffordshire, Stoke and Choupo-Moting’s lives have forked off into very different directions.
But just how different? Here’s how the two got on together and apart since 2017…
Choupo-Moting & Stoke City
Yep, this was the year when the duo endured a shared failure, dropping out of the Premier League in their tenth season in the top flight of English football. The lack of attacking spark was a major concern, and not even the individual genius of Xherdan Shaqiri, nor the ill-advised loan signing of Jese, could prevent them from slipping through the trap door.
Choupo-Moting actually got off to a fairly decent start in the red and white stripes. He bagged a brace in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, and was a handful for his marker when he was on form. Unfortunately, he would enjoy very few other highlights in Staffordshire from then on.
The Cameroonian forward bagged five goals over the course of the campaign, with his most notable contribution being his blossoming friendship with loanee Kurt Zouma. I wonder what he’s doing nowadays…
It was the end of a dream for Stoke, but just the start for Choupo-Moting.
At this point, Stoke and Choupo-Moting parted ways.
The striker decided he was too good for the Championship, something which many supporters who’d suffered the misfortune of watching him play football for 12 months would strongly dispute. However, as always, it’s not what you know in this game, but who you know.
The 31-year-old had a friend from his time at Mainz named Thomas Tuchel, who decided to grant him the opportunity to demonstrate his skills on one of the biggest stages in Europe – Paris Saint-Germain.
Stoke fans took great delight when Choupo-Moting quickly contrived to produce one of the worst misses that football has ever seen in a game against Strasbourg, when he tried to tap a goal-bound effort over the line, only to somehow send the shot backwards and away from the net.
He managed three goals in 22 matches, which in a team including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, is not exactly up to standards.
Trophies: Ligue 1 title
If Stoke fans were laughing, it was through bitter tears of their own. Expectations were high under new coach Gary Rowett, and without Choupo-Moting’s ego weighing them down, they were ready to set sail on a journey back to the top flight.
Yeah, about that…. Instead, a whole bunch of other egos and unhappy souls reared their ugly heads, Rowett lost the support of the fanbase with his outspoken nature and mind-numbing tactics, and he was sacked in January 2019. Nathan Jones arrived with endless promises that he was going to build a team supporters could be proud of, but he ended up winning only three of their 21 matches, finishing in 16th place.
A sign of things to come…
The striker was used sparingly in his final season – as you can imagine. His strike rate did improve, once again scoring three league goals, but spanning over only nine matches. He did save one of the biggest moments of his career for one of the biggest occasions, though.
With PSG staring down the barrel of another Champions League failure, this time at the hands of massive underdogs Atalanta, Choupo-Moting came off the bench to completely turn the quarter-final on its head. Down by a single goal, the striker clipped a nice ball into the box which led to a 90th-minute equaliser, before tapping home the winner mere minutes later to send the French champions into the semi-finals.
He was also introduced as a late substitute in the final, where PSG would ultimately lose to Bayern. And that was the end of his time in France.
Trophies: Ligue 1 title, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue (and a Champions League runners-up medal)
So, how were Stoke getting on in their second season without the big man? Even less successfully than the first, is the answer. Two wins in the opening 14 matches of the 2019/20 campaign left the Potters languishing stone dead last, and the board pulled the trigger on the Jones experiment.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill entered the fray, and somehow fought off what seemed a certain relegation, ending the season in 15th position – a slight improvement on their previous efforts.
Just another 13 seasons with similar growth, and the Potters could end up back in the Premier League!
After enjoying his moment in the sun, it was time for Choupo-Moting to disappear off into the sunset, with his reputation partially restored… Or, he could bag a move to all-conquering champions of Europe Bayern Munich, on yet another free transfer!
The season is far from over, of course, but he has already claimed another trophy for his cabinet, in the form of the Club World Cup. The former Stoke star even got onto the pitch as a substitute, making him a champion of the world. World champion of football, Choupo-Moting. Who knows how many trophies he’ll rack up this season?
Trophies: FIFA Club World Cup
The Potters have produced a far steadier campaign this year, and sit on the periphery of a playoff battle, although their hopes of breaking into that top six diminished over a disappointing winter period. Stoke now boast Steven Fletcher as their leading striker, while promising forward Tyrese Campbell is itching to come back from a long-term injury.
Promotion is not out of the question, but it does seem that Stoke will be trophy-less for yet another year.