As we walked back towards Hammersmith last night, thoughts turned towards Sunday’s game against Sunderland. Of all the players who have left in recent years, the one that pains me the most is Steed Malbranque. What makes his departure all the more upsetting is the fact that this bashful and unassuming Frenchman always receives a rough reception when comes back to the Cottage. The booing is totally at odds with what I remember of Malbranque; a skillful player able to turn a game in an instant and someone who gave his all for the club.
Turning that magnificent ‘Steeeeeeeeed’ chant into ‘Greeeeeed’ isn’t funny, clever or accurate. Those who do have once again managed to fall for a clever bit of club propaganda. One of Chris Coleman’s major failures as Fulham boss was in his man management. He fell out badly with Malbranque towards the end of his tenure at the club and when Malbranque politely declined a new deal (one which would have paid him around £40,000 a week), Coleman packed him off to train with the youth team. Instead of getting the best out of the Frenchman, he headed off to Spurs for a minimal fee that scarcely reflected his true value. Here’s the important bit. He signed for less money at Tottenham than he would have got at the Cottage.
But the argument about Malbranque isn’t a monetary one. He was a terrific little player. Scampering across midfield in a couple of pre-season friendlies, you can see we’d got some real quality. His touch was magnificent, he had an eye for pass and, like Damien Duff to a certain extent, would find a way to create a chance out of an almost impossible situation. He was versatile too. At his best at a point of a midfield diamond, Steed played most of his Fulham career as part of an orthodox midfield. He was comfortable on the right flank but was also pressed into service as an emergency centre forward when injuries left us with little other option. As always, he never let anyone down.
Whenever Malbranque’s name comes up on TIFF, a few people slate his lack of an end product – so much so far that it’s almost become a standing joke now. That argument is so pitifully weak it doesn’t really need a response. The stats are pretty strong in Steed’s favour. He scored ten goals in his first season at Fulham, 13 in his second, eight in 2003/04, seven in the next and six in his last campaign with the club. His 44 goals in 201 appearances equate to nearly one in five – not bad for a young midfielder who had no previous experience of English football.
But goals can’t be the single measure of Malbranque’s contribution. Remarkably, he sits seventh in the all-time assist list for the Premier League with 47 to his name. That’s despite not being a regular at Spurs during his brief spell at White Hart Lane and sometimes not featuring for Sunderland either. If the weight of statistics doesn’t sway you, try this video for size:
Malbranque was a fantastic player – one of the best I’ve seen at Fulham. It’s not my place to tell fellow Fulham fans how to behave but I’ll do it anyway: don’t tarnish the memories with some crass booing.