Premier League Career: Fulham (2001-2006), Tottenham Hotspur (2006-2008), Sunderland (2008-2011)
Steed Malbranque might have started his professional career with Lyon and would finish his footballing playing days in France but he spent the bulk of his time in English football. He became a firm favourite with fans of the clubs he represented in the Premier League; Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland. He also was liked by a certain British Prime Minister too.
Malbranque made his professional debut in 1998 with Lyon and would play 96 times in all competitions in his first spell with the club. This included 19 appearances in European competition, scoring twice in the UEFA Champions League. It was clear that there was talent in Malbranque’s game and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent scouts to look at him. However, no move to the Gunners materialised.
In the summer of 2001, he did move to the Premier League and also to London but it was to top-flight newcomers, Fulham for a fee in the region of £4.5 million. He made his debut in the exciting 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford against reigning champions Manchester United and went on to score eight goals in his debut Premier League campaign.
Fulham fans loved Malbranque and he would score 44 goals in all competitions for the Cottagers during an impressive five-year spell with the club. One of his finest displays came in October 2003, when Fulham pulled off a brilliant result to defeat Manchester United 3-1. This was among a string of productive performances that saw him called into the full French international squad by Jacques Santini in March 2004 for a friendly against the Netherlands. However, he remained an unused substitute during the goalless encounter and he would never win a full international cap for Les Bleus.
In November 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came onto the BBC’s lunchtime magazine show, Football Focus and was asked to name his favourite Premier League players. He picked Teddy Sheringham, Arjan de Zeeuw and Malbranque. Possibly boosted by having such a high-profile fan, Malbranque would score both goals later that afternoon in a 2-1 victory for Fulham over Manchester City. This would be his last season in west London. Despite having extensive talks over a new contract, these discussions broke down and with just one year left on his current deal, Fulham elected to cash in on his services.
There was plenty of interest in the summer of 2006 for Malbranque. The likes of Everton, Reading and Middlesbrough all made bids for him but he elected to stay in London and join Tottenham Hotspur on transfer deadline day for around £2 million. A groin operation delayed his debut for the Lilywhites until November 2006 and he would score 12 times in his 18 months with Tottenham in all competitions. Part of the last Tottenham squad to win silverware (the 2008 League Cup), Malbranque’s work ethic was also widely praised by Spurs supporters. In 2007-2008, he ended up in the top five for tackles made and tackles per minute across the whole Premier League.
In July 2008, he surprisingly followed Pascal Chimbonda and Teemu Tainio to Sunderland, signing a four-year contract. He struggled to replicate his Fulham and Tottenham form during his days on Wearside, although he did play in a different position as a winger. He then dropped into a deeper role in the 2010-2011 season to accommodate Danny Welbeck into the team. Welbeck was on a season-long loan from Manchester United. He featured prominently that campaign and his work ethic was again clear to see. He made his 100th appearance for the club in February 2011 against Chelsea but manager Steve Bruce decided to make him surplus to requirements at the end of the campaign. It was decided that removing him from the wage bill would help fund new summer signings too for the Black Cats.
Malbranque joined Saint-Etienne but made just one appearance for them before asking for his contract to be terminated. After a year away from the game, he returned to Lyon for four seasons before winding down his playing days with SM Caen and Monts d’Or Azergues who play in the Championnat National 2.
A tireless worker, Steed Malbranque won’t feature on the list of greatest French players to have played in the Premier League but he is fondly remembered by the clubs he played for and his best spell on these shores was definitely at Fulham, where he had a canny knack of scoring crucial goals.