Cult Heroes: Steeeeeeeeeeeed!

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This week’s selection for the Cult Heroes Hall of Fame needs no introduction and is one of a small group of players that epitomise the term cult hero. A man who was a fan favourite wherever he played, his time on Wearside was no different and despite an apparent inability to play past 60 or at a stretch 70 minutes (more than likely due to his love of a cigarette or two) still always had a trick up his sleeve to entertain the masses.

Who else but Steed Malbranque!? It had to happen sooner or later!

Steed began his career with Lyon as a trainee in 1995 where he went on to win numerous youth league titles and captained the French Under-18 side. The Belgian-born Frenchman did enough during his two year spell with the academy to seal a permanent deal and made his professional debut in 1998 and played just shy of one-hundred games for the French outfit including twelve Champions League appearances and two goals. It was reported that there was an opportunity for Steed to join Arsenal following an impressive performance during a Champions League tie at Highbury but the attacking midfielder turned down the opportunity as he felt he wasn’t ready for Premier League football.

Malbranque didn’t take long to change his mind however agreeing a £4.5m deal to join Fulham. Steed was an instant success at Craven Cottage with his creativity and eye for a goal helping to contribute to an upturn in the club’s fortunes. Malbranque enjoyed a five year stay with at the Cottage which saw him make over two-hundred appearances, rack up forty-four goals and end in controversy following expressing his desire to leave the club at the end of contract despite extensive efforts from Fulham to keep ahold of their playmaker. Rumours were abound that the Frenchman was forced to train with the youth squad before sealing a £2m move to White Hart Lane on transfer deadline day despite also carrying a groin injury that would rule him out for upwards of ten weeks.

Steed spent two years with Saturday’s hosts Tottenham Hotspur and as per the norm quickly became established as a favourite with the crowd at the Lane. Malbranque was "Mr. Consistency" according to the Spurs website during the 07/08 campaign, featuring in fifty-five of their fifty-seven competitive fixtures which also saw him contribute seven goals including an important strike which sealed victory for the side in the League Cup Quarter Final. Steed also demonstrated his work ethic that season finishing in the top five for tackles made and tackles per minute in the Premier League.

In the summer of 2008 Roy Keane planned a raid on White Hart Lane with Pascal Chimbona, Teemu Tainio, Younes Kaboul and Steed Malbranque his desired targets with a fee reported anywhere from £14m to £23m for the job lot. Whilst Kaboul cited earthquakes as the reasoning behind his disinterest in a move to the North-East the remaining members of Keane’s transfer posse all signed on the dotted line.

Malbranque brought a much needed injection of flair and creativity to the Sunderland side and his style of earned the admiration of the crowd at the time. The 09/10 season saw Malbranque switch flanks and operate from the left wing, a role which he had made his own during his time with Spurs, allowing him to cut inside onto his stronger right foot which granted him more time and space on the ball.

Malbranque had the ability to leave a defender in his wake with a swivel of his Gallic hips and a flick of his boot. I could talk all day about the little fella's creativity but wouldn't you rather watch a nicely put together highlight package? Whats that, you would? Well you're in luck my friend!

This summer however saw Sunderland take action to tackle a wage bill that was spiralling out of control with a number of players, mainly from the Keane era, still hanging around and picking up huge salaries for little to no return. Whilst it could be argued that Malbranque still had something to offer Sunderland the fact of the matter was that for the wages he was on his contribution to the side was beginning to wane. The goals certainly hadn’t come as frequently as Steed would have liked and question marks were beginning to be raised regarding the midfielder’s fitness. So it was with a heavy heart that SAFC bid farewell to their popular player maker who returned to France having signed a two year deal with St. Etienne.

This should have been where I would have been able to drop in "The End", or close the piece with a few well placed links to other articles on the site but Steed’s departure from Wearside was not the last we heard of the popular player. Oh no, no, no... That would be too easy.

In early September news broke that Saint-Etienne had parted company with Malbranque by mutual consent. Steed had made just a fleeting substitute appearance for the side since his free transfer in the summer and the news had everyone scratching their collective heads. The rumour mill went in to overdrive and stories began emerging that Steed had hung up his boots to look after his son who had been diagnosed with cancer. Well wishes for the Malbranque family poured in from the footballing community, the press and many of Steed’s ex-colleagues. Then, rather bizarrely, a statement from Malbranque via his solicitor was released which refuted the speculation, it turned out the midfielder does not even have a son. This peculiar incident summing up both the good and bad of modern social networking in one strange tall tale.

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