Crystal Palace coach Roy Hodgson confirmed on Friday that Jeffrey Schlupp had sustained an ankle injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season.
While the Eagles appeared unfazed by the wideman’s setback, it’s an injury that could well have consequences for Ghana as they look to win their first Africa Cup of Nations title since 1982.
Unlike national team coach Kwesi Appiah, Hodgson is under no illusion as to the importance of Schlupp to his side.
“I've always believed in Schlupp,” the former England boss told journalists, as per Football London, earlier in the campaign.
“I believe in him as a left-back, I believe in him as a left-sided player and I believe in him as a left midfield player in a three because he has a lot of qualities.
“It's great if you're going to write something positive about him because it certainly backs up what we feel about him and he's been a little hard done by.
“It's quite strange that players that sometimes receive the fanfare and in particular the players who are heralded by the fans aren't always the ones that we coaches think are the most important people in terms of helping us to win games.”
Schlupp has certainly done that so far this season, weighing in with five goals in all competitions as the Eagles have pulled away from the relegation zone.
His contribution has been recognised at Palace, with the left-sider nominated—alongside seven other players—for the club’s Player of the Season award.
While Schlupp is unlikely to win the prize ahead of the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan Bissaka, his nomination is testament to the impact he’s had at Selhurst Park.
The left-back has adapted well to a modified position in the midfield.
As noted by Goal correspondent James O’Conners, Hodgson has “ found a hybrid position from where Schlupp can aid defence and attack.”
The Black Star’s brief is “to tuck in narrowly when the ball is on the opposite flank, whilst doing Wilfried Zaha’s defending on the left side when Palace are under pressure.
“This frees the Ivorian up to focus on his attacking game, enabling him to play more advanced and more centrally.”
It’s a remit that’s suited Schlupp perfectly; he boasts the energy to track opposition runners, while has the technical quality and intelligence to join in the attack going forward, beating men with his dribbling skills, and using his pace to great effect.
His work off the ball has given Palace a different element, and Schlupp was duly rewarded with the club’s Player of the Month award for February.
It’s a far cry from earlier in the campaign, when fans were calling for him to be dropped.
"Unfortunately my season has come to an end a few weeks early due to an injury,” Schlupp wrote on his @Jeffrey_Schupp Twitter handle.
“Time to work hard and come back stronger ready for pre-season.”
With no acknowledgement of Ghana’s upcoming Afcon campaign, it appears as though Schlupp’s words are a tactic acceptance that he is no longer in contention for the showpiece in Egypt.
Indeed, with Hodgson ruling the wideman out for the rest of the campaign, he appears doubtful—at best—for Ghana’s Afcon campaign.
Even if he can regain fitness in time to make Kwesi Appiah’s provisional squad for the June 21 tournament, he’ll be lacking match sharpness ahead of the tournament.
It’s a major setback for Schlupp after he ended over a year in the international wilderness to return to the squad for the recent double-header against Kenya and Mauritania, potentially denying him a triumphant international comeback.
He isn’t the only existing concern for Appiah, who will also be monitoring recent fitness issues for Daniel Amartey, Asamoah Gyan and Harrison Afful.
Despite his consistent service in the Premier League—he has 129 top flight outings under his belt—and his role in Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning campaign, the wideman has struggled to establish himself in the national side.
He jostled with Abdul Rahman Baba for minutes through 2014-2016, but remarkably, has made just three appearances—including his recent comeback against Mauritania—since the left-back was laid out with injury during the 2017 Nations Cup.
Schlupp has never been named in a tournament squad by Ghana, even though he was assessed ahead of the 2014 World Cup, yet has been involved for the national side in four separate qualifying campaigns.
In light of Baba’s injury, Appiah has opted to assess the likes of Lumor Agbenyenu, Daniel Opare and even Afful at left-back, while Schlupp has largely been overlooked.
Even though his tactical flexibility has been exploited by Hodgson, and by Nigel Pearson, much earlier his career, as Schlupp operated in a more advanced role as the Foxes beat the drop, a succession of Ghana coaches have appeared not to see his value.
In a tournament environment, in particular, his versatility could have been a massive asset to the Black Stars, with the 26-year-old able to operate as a left-back, left wing-back or as a more orthodox left winger.
His recent role with Palace could also have been revived for the national side, with Schlupp’s disciplined work on the left potentially freeing up Christian Atsu to wreak havoc on the right much as Zaha has done for the Eagles.
Had Schlupp made the Afcon squad, it would have been an opportunity for him to make up for his stop-start international career to date, and for the Black Stars to capitalise on a player enjoying excellent form in the world’s biggest league.
Instead, the wideman’s frustrating time with the national side looks set to continue.