Malbranque mystery

Friday 25 January 2002

From Leo Spall

If Fulham's Steed Malbranque was an attention-seeker hoping for celebrity status in his French homeland, he would be pulling his hair out by now.

The midfielder, who moved from Lyon in the summer for £4.5 million, should be on his way to becoming a household name there after captaining the national Under-18 side and playing well for the Under-21s.

But despite that and some eye-catching performances in the Premiership, he remains a virtual unknown among French football fans.

France Under-21 head coach Raymond Domenech said: 'I don't think people here know that Malbranque still exists.

'He is only playing for my team and in France they are not well-known.

'A lot of people thought he was talented at Lyon but he did not stay long enough to establish himself as a good player.'

Malbranque, 22 earlier this month, joined the French club as an 18-yearold and made more than 50 appearances before leaving for London.

Jean Tigana was manager of Lyon when Malbranque was in that club's youth ranks and the midfielder's decision to link up with him again has paid off.

Malbranque's skilful displays and tally of six goals have seen him hold on to his place even when Lee Clark has been fit. Domenech believes recognition at home cannot be too far away.

He said: 'Every time he plays for the Under-21s he is one of the best players on the pitch.

'We have qualified for this year's European Championships and he will be one of the most important members of the squad. The other French national coaches know about him as a result of this although I don't think he has much of a chance of going to the World Cup finals this year because there are a lot of other good players.

'If he continues to play as well, then he could get into the senior squad for the next European Championships.

'At Lyon it was just that he was not in a good position because the coach did not play him all the time, but I think Fulham got a good deal.'

Domenech may be tipping Malbranque for international recognition but tomorrow the midfielder faces a very different challenge.

He will be part of the side hoping to avoid an FA Cup upset against York City in the fourth round.

The tie highlights the gulf in today's game with Fulham's Third Division opponents having spent just £51,000 on 21 players in the last two years.

Tigana plays Malbranque at the front of a diamond-shaped midfield which, tomorrow, will be without Sean Davis because of a broken nose.

Striker Louis Saha is doubtful for the same reason, Barry Hayles is suspended and Luis Boa Morte is trying to recover from an ankle injury so the team will rely on Malbranque's attacking contribution more than ever at Bootham Crescent.

Domenech believes that Malbranque has thrived in the responsibility he now has as a first-team regular at Fulham.

'The move has helped Steed because he has been playing all the time and that is what he wanted,' Domenech said. 'It has given him the confidence to show the things he knew he could do.'