PARIS (AFP) – His signing at the start of the season was ridiculed by many, but Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has succeeded in winning over the supporters at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) as he stands in for the French champions’ injured superstars.
The giant Cameroon international forward joined PSG just as the transfer window was closing last August, swapping a Stoke City side who had just been relegated from the English Premier League, for the Champions League.
Choupo-Moting signed a two-year deal with the unenviable task of acting as a back-up for the Ligue 1 side’s front three of Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar.
Opportunities have been limited as a result, but the 29-year-old has played an increasingly important role in recent weeks with both Neymar and Cavani out.
Just seven of his 21 appearances have been starts, although that includes his side’s last two outings.
He has not scored since netting on his Ligue 1 debut at Rennes back in September, which makes it harder to see him as a credible alternative to the ‘MCN’.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday he set up one goal in a 3-0 French Cup quarter-final win over Dijon. The Parc des Princes crowd now have a song in honour of their new cult hero, and television cameras even caught Mbappe joining in as he enjoyed a rest on the bench.
“He went through a bit of a tough spell, but he has his confidence back again,” said coach Thomas Tuchel, under whom the German-born striker played at Mainz in the Bundesliga earlier in his career.
“We are enjoying having him, just as we are trying to ensure he enjoys being with us,” said defender Presnel Kimpembe. “He is a really clever lad and we need him on the pitch.”
Choupo-Moting, whose wages are estimated to be around 30 times lower than Neymar’s, will hope to keep his place when PSG go to struggling Caen today (Sunday, midnight Brunei time).
Neymar is still expected to be out for around a month with a metatarsal injury, but Cavani could make his comeback after three weeks on the sidelines with a hip problem.
Mbappe may also start with PSG seeking an eighth successive win before they face Manchester United in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie next Wednesday, defending a 2-0 first-leg lead.
PSG are 17 points clear of second-placed Lille at the top of Ligue 1, while Caen are in the relegation zone and lost 3-1 at Lyon on Wednesday in the French Cup quarter-finals.
Memphis Depay scored in that game, the Dutchman ending a goal drought of more than three months as Lyon again missed their injured captain, Nabil Fekir.
They will hope to have the World Cup winner back in time for tomorrow’s (Monday, midnight Brunei time) game against Toulouse, as they try to hold onto a top-three place and a Champions League qualifying spot.