Out of the Light, into the Cauldron … Salut! Sunderland offers thanks and best wishes to Steed Malbranque …
M Salut and M Malbranque can talk freely over a good bottle of sturdy Côtes du Rhône without fear of complaint from me if he happens to be chainsmoking Gauloises throughout.
We’d be able to agree that this football business can be, not to mince words, merdique. You win a place in the hearts of most of the fans of your club only to be sold on during some restructuring programme that leaves you “not featuring in the boss’s future plans”.
So Steed is off to Saint-Etienne. It may sound these days like a small-time French club with small-time ambitions and a small ground (Le Chaudron Vert or Green Cauldron holds only 35,600 spectators).
But it is one of the most successful clubs in Ligue 1 history – 10 league titles, the last in 1981, and six times winners of the Coupe de France – and past players have included Michel Platini, Laurent Blanc, Aimé Jacquet, Gérard Janvion and Jacques Santini. The Wikipedia list of notables, as opposed to its full list, inexplicably omitted Dominique Rocheteau, who was a highly effective striker at St Etienne with 51 goals in 153 appearances before joining PSG.
Oh, and don’t forget our own Patrice Carteron, who managed only eight games for Sunderland but famously scored against Newcastle United in one of them. The habit formed, he went back to St Etienne for a second stint but this time notched 15 goals in 100 games, having failed to hit the net once in the 20 games before he came to Wearside.
As rumours grew on Tuesday that Steed was about to leave, my Twitter follower/followed Andy, aka @easygoingmaloy, sent a tweet saying he’d be gutted if it proved true. I replied that we’d miss the skills but, sadly, not the goals (one if 102 games for SAFC), prompting this from Andy: “In his seven seasons in England before he came here, he scored 55 goals. His current tally is 57, I’m still gutted.”
Andy’s maths may be faulty – the record suggests fewer goals before and after he arrived at the SoL – but the sentiment is shared.
Steed is a generously gifted footballer. I was shot down in flames for suggesting that in our 7-2 hammering by Chelsea two seasons ago, he was the only Sunderland player who showed flashes of Premier skill (others questioned his backtracking and said failings in that department had cost us dearly). But I stuck to my guns. The sight of him skipping out of a melee, beating two or three players in one go, is something that will stay in my memory forever, as will the telling, defence-splitting passes of which he was always capable.
Steve Bruce said of the transfer (another of those ludicrous undisclosed fees, though one entirely unofficial stab put it at £1.5m): “Steed has been a good servant to Sunderland and he goes with our best wishes. His new club is very near to where his family is based and I’m sure after a number of years in England he will enjoy returning to his roots.”
It remains to be seen whether the midfield will be stronger without him. I am certainly unconvinced for the simple reason that he brought a natural ability to the role that no other Sunderland player has seemed to match for years.
That said, we do need goals from midfield and Steed simply doesn’t provide them. The time is right for him to find a new challenge and he could do very well in the more sedate setting of the French top flight, where technique is valued more highly than blistering pace or box-to-box endeavour.
M Salut now has four teams to look out for in France: St Etienne for Steed, Nice for Eric Roy and newly promoted Dijon for Patrice Carteron. The fourth? Bordeaux, as in still not forgiven so looking for another grim season for them.
Steed carries our fondest best wishes in the new phase of his career, That word – merde – has many more applications than describing human waste. So it is entirely right to offer him an old French greeting: merde à la puissance de treize (s*** 13 times squared). He’ll know it means good luck.