Magnifique Tigana

Wednesday 22 August 2001

If the French Football Federation were ever to designate a finishing school for their disaffected young players, it would surely be at Fulham's Craven Cottage. Frenchman Jean Tigana built up a formidable reputation for developing talent at Monaco and Fulham are now enjoying the benefits of his skills.

Tigana paid Metz £2.1 million for Louis Saha and transformed him from a bit-part striker in the French league into the leading scorer in England's First Division with 32 goals in just one season.

On Sunday, the 23-year-old forward netted twice at Manchester United and was helped by a player set to become the second graduate from Tigana's French school at Fulham, Steed Malbranque.

The midfielder - a £4.5m buy from Lyon last month - supplied the precise through-ball for Saha's second goal and the way he tried a series of tricks and flicks showed he was not overawed on his Premiership debut at the home of the champions.

Malbranque, 21, will probably start against Sunderland at Craven Cottage tonight and will provide Lee Clark with stiff competition for a place when he recovers from an Achilles injury.

The France Under-21 international said: "My coach at Lyon promised me I was going to play all the time last season, but that did not turn out to be the case and I felt I needed a new start.

"I had other offers in France and abroad but I was keen to play in England, especially for a team which had a French coach and players.

"I was in the youth academy at Lyon when Jean Tigana was manager there and I worked under Christian Damiano (Fulham's assistant manager) for two years with the French Under-18 team.

"They convinced me to come to Fulham and my early impressions have been very positive. It will take a few games to settle but everything is going well so far."

Malbranque is seen at Fulham as an attacking midfielder in the mould of Chelsea's Gianfranco Zola. A product of Lyon's youth system, Malbranque was hailed as a star of the future after breaking into the senior side in 1998.

His potential was such that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger tried to bring him to Highbury.

Malbranque chose to continue his development at Lyon, and captained Damiano's France side at the 1999 European Under-18 Championships.

He played 39 times for Lyon last season, including appearing as a substitute in the 1-0 Champions League defeat by Arsenal, but was unhappy at the amount of time he spent on the bench.

A recent chat with West Ham striker Freddie Kanoute, a former team-mate at Lyon who also became disillusioned in France, convinced him he had made the right choice by coming to England.

Malbranque said: "I bumped into Freddie at the airport on my way over to London. We had a good talk about English football, he gave me some advice and told me to call him if I needed anything.

"There is a real family atmosphere at Fulham and I already feel very much like part of the group. It's easier to settle in when there's someone else to speak French to.

"Our aim this season is to finish as high up the table as possible.

"On a personal level, I just want to play and to enjoy myself on the pitch.

"We know we will need to fight very hard in every game if we want to do well and it is important not to show any team too much respect."

Malbranque could be reunited with former Lyon team-mate Steve Marlet at Craven Cottage. Tigana has offered £10m for the France striker but has been told by Lyon to increase his bid.

Fulham defender Rufus Brevett is available again tonight after suspension but striker Luis Boa Morte is still out as he serves the second game of a three-match ban.