The magic of the FA Cup is alive! We get to play Premier League opposition again, and we can’t even say “for now” because this time round, Fulham have decided to actually be quite good in the top tier.
As the Lads head down to the sort-of-renovated Craven Cottage, reminiscing about players who have turned out for both clubs brings back a swell of early/mid 00s nostalgia. Remember how good Louis Saha was for Fulham? With his daft hair and Pizza Hut shirt sponsor…and just how utterly crap he was for us when we signed him for seemingly no other reason than: it was funny.
So let’s start with someone we can all enjoy.
Everyone loves a cult hero, and Steed was yet another one of those on Wearside. A midfield blessed with stupendous technique and a radge side that came out sneakily, rather than in a wave of red cards, Malbranque is arguably one of the most skilful players to have worn the red and white this side of the 21stcentury.
Starting out in his homeland with French giants Lyon, Malbranque picked up a league cup before signing for Fulham in summer of 2001. That year was Fulham’s first in the Premier League and, managed by Jean Tigana and owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed, they brought a swathe of talent with them. The likes of Edwin van der Sar, Steve Marlet, Sylvain Legwinski, Luis Boa Morte and Saha all joined Malbranque, although Barry Hayles still managed to end up top goalscorer.
Steed was a fan favourite at Fulham, scoring goals for fun, routinely turning full-backs inside out and, even managed to get called up to the French national team, albeit it without getting on the pitch. Malbranque’s exploits earned him a move across London when he signed for Spurs on deadline day of the summer 2006 transfer window.
A couple of injuries limited Malbranque’s playing time at Tottenham, but, in much the same way as he did at Fulham, his battling displays, sprinkled with his silky playmaking skills saw him become a terrace hero in North London too. Malbranque picked up a League Cup winner’s medal with Spurs in 2008 before following teammates Teemu Tainio and Pascal Chimbonda (less said about him the better) with a move to the North East, signing for Sunderland in July 2008.
The best way to describe how most Sunderland fans feel about Malbranque is simply to say that “he had it”. The sort of player who made time slow down, casually rolling the ball between what appeared to be more than just two feet, twisting and turning his way through countless oncomers, often laying it on a plate for whoever was lucky enough to be playing ahead of him.
It’s staggering to realise that he only scored two goals in his three-year stay on Wearside – one a belter from range against Hull, and the other in the cup against Barrow . But as he was largely utilised in a wide role, it’s more likely that Steed’s contributions in a red and white shirt were about two steps before the goal, having made a defender or two look very silly indeed.
Steed left in August 2011, returning home with Saint-Etienne, made only one appearance before being released amid rumours of retirement, before surprising everyone by heading back to his first club, Lyon a year later.
A renaissance of Steed’s career started back at his old club, striking up a deadly understanding with future Swansea City striker and owner of a celebration which would see most normal folk put on a register, Bafetimbi Gomis. Finally, after four years back at Lyon, at the age of 36, Malbranque moved on and began a wander around France’s lower leagues with Caen, Chasselay and the presumably fictional Limonest Saint-Didier before, in an incredible turn of events, he moved back to London earlier this month and signed for amateur side FC Cricklewood in the Barnet Sunday League. I hope he never retires.
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If there was anyone in our current squad who plays with a bit of the mercurial wizardry of Steed, it’s arguably Fulham academy product Patrick Roberts. The winger broke into Fulham’s first team way back in 2014, making his debut off the bench against Man City at the age of just 17. Fulham were relegated from the Premier League at the end of that season, largely owing to Felix Magath being a cartoon mad scientist, but the drop meant more game time for Roberts, playing 17 times for the first team as the Cottagers got used to life back in the Championship.
Roberts’ performances were noted by Man City, who duly signed him for £12m – he made his City debut against Sunderland in their 4-1 win over us in the League Cup back in 2015. Appearances at the Etihad would not come easy though, and a single outing as a sub against Spurs would be his only showing in the league for City in his seven years in Manchester.
A truly ridiculous 18 month loan spell to Celtic would follow, which would see Roberts tear the SPL up, scoring 15 goals in 55 league appearances and picking up seven trophies on the way, including three league titles. City seemingly still didn’t have a clue what to do with Roberts though, as they then sent him out on consecutively disappointing loans to Girona, Norwich, Middlesbrough, Derby and Troyes – across all of those clubs, Roberts would only manage 58 games in four years.
So when Sunderland signed him in January of 2022, it was a move most fans were a little cautious about. There was undenied talent there, but one which had been mismanaged for pretty much his entire career. It took Roberts a little while to get into the swing of things, but you can pinpoint the moment things clicked into place for him – Hillsborough, 9th May 2022. A twisting, jinking performance only arguably out done by Jack Clarke was capped off by Roberts making the right run at the right time to stab home the all important equaliser on the night, sending Sunderland to Wembley.
When Roberts is truly on it, there’s not many in the league that can live with him, and when he’s not skinning two defenders to get into the box, he’s casually volleying a ball over the top for Ross Stewart from six miles away.
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