Cult Heroes: Steed Malbranque

by Stuart Vose

We profile trickster who winged his way into Sunderland fans’ hearts.

Fleet of foot and boasting a locker bursting with tricks and flicks, Steed Malbranque was a firm fan favourite during almost exactly three years on Wearside.

The winger, comfortable on the left or right, was noted for his skill on the ball and willingness – not to mention innate ability – to beat opponents.

Manchester City’s James Milner was one notable victim, as during one home clash Malbranque nutmegged him on the edge of his own area before looping back to do the same again, leaving the home fans roaring their approval.

He scored just two goals in three seasons with the Lads, but his first – a piledriver in a 4-1 rout of Hull – is particularly fondly remembered by Sunderland fans.

Malbranque, who was born in Belgium but considers himself French, was already an established top-flight name when he checked in on Wearside.

The winger had a reputation as a player blessed with the ability to thrill and had been a particularly key figure in establishing Fulham as a Premier League force during a stay spanning five seasons, initially coming over from Lyon.

He then spent two campaigns across the capital at Spurs, from where he was tempted north by then-Sunderland boss Roy Keane alongside Pascal Chimbonda and Teemu Tainio.

Seen as one of the club’s most high-profile signings, the winger quickly became a key figure.

Malbranque never made less than 30 appearances during each of his trio of seasons on Wearside and was integral under first Keane, then caretaker Ricky Sbragia, and lastly permanent successor Steve Bruce.

Willing and able to light up any ground with a moment of skill, a deft touch or even the odd well-timed challenge, Malbranque has always been a tricky customer for opponents to deal with.

But his flashy on-pitch game was in stark contrast to his off-pitch demeanour, with the French youth international one of the quieter men in the Sunderland dressing room.

He preferred to keep himself to himself when it came to the media, too - there’s no doubting that the vast majority of his talking was done on the pitch.

A preference to pass rather than shoot was definitely a hallmark – perhaps the reason behind his relatively low goal tally.

But, similar to current star Stephane Sessegnon, Malbranque possessed the spark to be able to lever open an opposing defence or lift a sagging crowd in an instant.

He passed the landmark of 100 appearances for Sunderland during the 2010-11 season, but left on a free transfer at the end of the campaign to return to France.

A brief spell with St Etienne ended in rumours of retirement, but Malbranque wasn’t yet done with the pro game and resurfaced back where it all began – Lyon – last summer.

Malbranque’s return to the Stade de Gerland has been wildly successful, resulting in a string of excellent displays throughout the season so far.

His resurgence has caught the imagination of French football fans and pundits alike, with calls in some quarters to bestow upon him a first full cap for Les Bleus.

That’s the beauty of Malbranque – brilliantly unpredictable, free-roaming and quite simply unstoppable on his day.

Take a look at our special Steed tribute gallery above.