It’s been a difficult year for millions of football fans, but very few have been subjected to torture quite like Schalke supporters.
The German giants’ implosion has been brewing for some years now, and it all came to a head in the 2020/21 campaign. Three wins in 34 miserable matches left Schalke rooted to the bottom of the table, confirming their relegation to the second tier, and giving their faithful followers very little to smile about.
There has been one ray of light in this dark, dark season, though. That is the emergence of 20-year-old American striker Matthew Hoppe. The youngster made the headlines by hitting a super hat-trick against Hoffenheim in January, firing Schalke to their first win of the campaign.
He went on to score another three goals in a team which often looked as if it didn’t know which way it was supposed to be shooting, and that has caused some of Europe’s giants to sit up and take notice.
Tottenham Hotspur are one of several Premier League sides interested in his services, along with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Southampton. But who is Hoppe, and what is there to know about him?
Life is full of these sliding doors moments, and one arrived extremely early in Hoppe’s short career. The youngster had committed to playing for San Diego State University soccer team, but an offer from Schalke convinced him to take the leap of faith.
Hoppe ditched college and instead moved to Europe, pushing himself out of his comfort zone as a mere teenager. He has taken full advantage of that opportunity though, having broken into the Schalke first team and then writing his name into club folklore with his wonderful hat-trick against Hoffenheim.
Fortune favours the brave.
If there’s one thing we can be sure about, it’s that Hoppe knows where the goal is. The American forward has shown clinical finishing at every level, and even in Schalke’s youth team, there was evidence of the ice cold blood which courses through his veins.
This brace against Inglostadt was a warning sign of things to come, with his first goal against Hoffenheim ending with an eerily similar finish, clipping the ball over the goalkeeper with his left foot.
His other strikes were equally as glorious, first racing onto a through ball to round the goalkeeper and roll home, and then arrogantly flicking a right boot to clip a first-time finish into the far corner. Oozing confidence.
Ok, so maybe he’s not a genuine product of Barcelona’s famous ‘La Masia’ academy, but Hoppe did spend two years at Arizona’s ‘Barcelona Residency Academy’… which is basically the same thing, right?
The academy is associated with la Blaugrana’s wonderkid factory, and the experience even allowed Hoppe to spend 2 weeks training at the real Masia academy, where he played alongside some of the soon-to-be biggest names of our sport.
The American picked out Ansu Fati as the most talented of all – maybe he’s got a future as a scout, too.
Only a year younger than the Norwegian robot, Hoppe has previously admitted that he studies the striker’s movement, and is trying to learn as much as possible from his performances.
With 40 league goals in 43 appearances, there are worse examples to follow, in fairness to Hoppe.
That Hoffenheim hat-trick was Hoppe’s crowning moment of his domestic career so far, and in hitting the treble, he also broke a Bundesliga record.
The forward became the first American footballer to score a hat-trick in the German top-flight, and in doing so, he helped Schalke avoid equalling the longest winless streak in Bundesliga history by one game, winning for the first time in their 31st attempt in a mind-blowing 359 days.
The only way is up for Schalke, and if Hoppe sticks around, he is going to drag them on that journey. If not, he’s earned his crack at the big time.
Incredibly, Hoppe has not always been a striker. Until only a couple of years ago, the American played as a midfielder, showing his attacking intent from the middle of the pitch.
Ultimately, his ruthless nature and impressive finishing shone brightest, and it was only a matter of time until he was awarded his chance to lead the line, an opportunity he has grabbed with both hands.
Hoppe also likes to drop deeper from his attacking position, using his experience in both areas of the pitch to hurt defences. He’s gonna be a star.