Jeffrey Schlupp has a magical moment that will ensure his place in Palace folklore for years to come. Ben Mountain chats to the man whose goal kick-started the Eagles’ stunning win against Manchester City two months ago as he reflects on that memorable afternoon in the north-west.
The high point of Jeffrey Schlupp’s career to date not only coincided with one of Palace’s brightest highlights from their 10 seasons in the Premier League, but sparked it into life as well.
On a drizzly, chilly, pre-Christmas Manchester afternoon, the Eagles travelled north to the sky blue half of the city where they would face the reigning, all-conquering champions, Manchester City.
It was possibly the sternest test Palace have ever faced in all their years at English football’s top table, given that Pep Guardiola and his team’s swashbuckling football had led to 100 points the previous campaign and they were trying to improve on what many in the game had labelled as perfection.
But, against all odds, Palace won 3-2. And despite it not being the standout moment of an extraordinary affair at the Etihad Stadium, undoubtedly the key point came with Palace trailing 1-0 and Schlupp picking up possession in his own half.
The midfielder, with a tight triangle of blue shirts swiftly closing in on him, looked up and launched a clever cross-field ball in the direction of Wilfried Zaha before, out of the eye of the camera, charging downfield.
Ending up in-line with the home side’s goal on the edge of their penalty box and with the ball rolled uneasily into his feet, Schlupp took a left-footed touch, another and then two more to steady himself before pulling the same leg back and arrowing an inch-perfect shot across the face of goal into the outstretched Ederson’s inside netting before wheeling away in celebration, launching himself into the air and then allowing the embraces of his teammates to consume him.
Perhaps in that moment, though, he didn’t realise quite how significant his equalising effort would become.
“Obviously you never go into a game expecting to lose,” he reflected. “But the mentality is different when you’re playing Manchester City away compared to a lesser team at home.
“It was a relief for me to score. We needed three points, there’s no secret about that, so it was a relief. I scored quite soon after they scored their first so it was important too, but it just felt good for me to get onto the scoresheet.
“To be honest, when they got their second, we began looking at the clock! But it was probably worse for the people watching outside of the pitch, because we were there in the game and we were focussed.”
And it was that focus which kept Schlupp’s side in the match until the end, securing three points that will go down forever in Palace history. In spite of the magnitude of the occasion, the team knew that maintaining focus would be an essential component to taking something from the fixture, and so the build-up to it remained the same as it would before any match.
Schlupp offered an insight into a week's worth of preparation to face one of the world’s great footballing sides.
“The build-up was the same for that and for most games, to be honest. We work with the analysis guys early in the week to see how they play and then we go onto the training pitches to see what we can do to limit them. Although I say the build-up is the same, the mentality can be a bit different and you do notice their talent on the pitch.”
But City weren’t the only team showcasing their talent that day and one of Schlupp’s teammates in particular stands out from the 27 players who competed on the Etihad’s turf.
Andros Townsend would ultimately steal the headlines with his Goal of the Season-contending 30-yard volley, and it was that, even when exhibited alongside the likes of Sergio Agüero, Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sané’s skills, which has stuck in people’s memories from a modern-day Premier League classic.
For Schlupp, Townsend’s moment of magic happened right in front of his eyes. It was so close, in fact, that had he not turned to face the goal, the Ghanaian would have missed it sailing in at all.
Looking back, he said, “You’ll take a bundle - any goal - against Man City to be honest, but Andros’ was a screamer. We’ve all seen it; it was a great, great goal. And when those type of goals go in it feels better. But Andros likes to score screamers - he’s scored quite a few recently! We’ve seen him do it before so it was no surprise.”
That early Christmas present arrived for Palace in the middle of a three-game unbeaten run and at the heart of a packed December which saw the Eagles notch up 10 points from seven games, having taken only nine from their opening 13.
Since then, they have conceded just one goal from four games and recorded two wins and a draw in the same stretch of time.
Three weeks may have elapsed since the euphoric post-match scenes as Roy Hodgson’s players celebrated with those who had travelled to Manchester, but Schlupp believes the feel-good factor has lingered: “The atmosphere changes after a game like that. It improves in the changing room, everyone’s happier. Really, we want to win to keep that up and keep the atmosphere like that.”
But experiences like that afternoon could only have been a pipedream for a 10-year-old Schlupp when he left Germany to move with his parents to England. Born into a family that had already uprooted once before from Ghana to Hamburg, his life would change monumentally when those around him upped sticks for the second time.
Ultimately, the move to Blighty would lead to a career playing professional football at the very top of the English game that saw him lay his hands on the most prestigious of awards aged just 23: the Premier League trophy. But that moment simply wouldn’t have been on offer had Schlupp grown up elsewhere.
Reflecting on how his family found their way to British shores, he said. “It was my mum who wanted to move to Germany so we could lead a more comfortable life. It was same with the move to England; to have opportunities.”
However, not knowing a word of the language following his 1,000 kilometre upheaval, Schlupp would be forced to rely upon two things to settle in, the first of which was a rather novel form of linguistic education.
“I actually learnt a lot from watching cartoons,” he laughed. “You know, just loads of types, all the sorts that kids watch at that age. I also had something like a German to English translator, so if I didn’t know what a word was, I could just look it up in that. But I didn’t speak a word of English when I first came over.”
Schlupp’s family ultimately landed in Milton Keynes, settling there while the Palace star began the long road to making it as a professional footballer with the Leicester City academy, and as with so many children, football would act as a languageless way of integrating, meeting and ultimately, feeling comfortable.
“Football definitely helped,” he said. “I started playing it straight away! I joined a team in Milton Keynes, and played with them until I was about 12 and then Leicester picked me up.”
Years, countless matches of football and a whole load of cartoons later and Schlupp is now an established Premier League footballer who celebrated his two-year anniversary in south London the day after the Watford game.
Now 26, his game has changed significantly since those early days proving himself to the children around him through his feet whilst his English caught up with his skill.
Even now, his style is still progressing. Having not scored for the Eagles in his first season-and-a-half when he typically played at left-back, a switch to midfield for the opening day of this season saw him net at Fulham before later adding four more to his seasonal tally.
“I’ve definitely been trying to add goals to my game lately,” he explained. “Because I’ve moved from left-back to left-wing, I’ve been trying to get more because I’m further forward. But it’s not been a big move for me because playing at left-back and left-wing can be quite similar.”
The goals may be coming, however, for an older and clearer reason. “I was a striker when I was younger,” Schlupp elaborated. “At Leicester, I went out on loan to Brentford where I scored six goals and when I came back to Leicester, I actually scored a hat-trick on my debut! But I’d gone on tour with the squad [to Sweden] and played left-back there quite a lot and did quite well.
“The gaffer, Sven-Göran Eriksson, used to play me there. So in that game where I scored a hat-trick up front on my league debut, I then played the last 10 minutes of the match at left-back! I wouldn’t say that attacking is exactly easy for me, but I definitely have a taste for it because I became used to it when I was younger.”
Those early days would prove hugely valuable for the Eagles in later years. And after finding the net to kick-start one of their most famous top-flight victories, Palace fans will be grateful to have the former cartoon-watching, footballing protégé Jeffrey Schlupp among their ranks, scoring goals and defeating champions.
This interview has been lifted from the official Palace programme when the Eagles hosted Watford in January. To buy the programme and read a whole lot more interviews such as this alongside stats, facts, reports, chats and posters, keep an eye out for vendors around Selhurst Park on a matchday.
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