STEED Malbranque’s frankly bizarre spell at St Etienne came to an end last night when he terminated his two-year contract at the French club less than two months after signing it.
The former Sunderland midfielder’s decision comes hot on the heels of false claims that he was quitting football to spend more time with a four-year-old son stricken by cancer.
The cancer rumours started to emerge in the French Press last Friday – fuelled by the player’s unavailability for games due to “non-footballing reasons” – but it wasn’t until Monday of this week that Malbranque moved to dismiss them as fake.
The player issued a statement through solicitors pointing out that he had no son and the story was untrue, but, by the time the announcement was made, the damage was done and the story had already flashed around the world, with many of his former team-mates in England publicly offering their support and sympathies.
Then, yesterday, within hours of dismissing the cancer story, a joint statement was released from St Etienne and Malbranque announcing the tearing up of the player’s contract – though, unhelpfully, no explanation has been offered to as to why the decision has been taken.
The statement read: “At a meeting held Monday night between the management of AS St Etienne and Steed Malbranque, both parties have decided, by mutual agreement, to amicably end their collaboration.
“St Etienne and the player would like to strongly deny all the rumours referring to the health of Steed Malbranque or children that accompanied the decision of the individual.
“This choice is his alone and ASSE fully respects Steed’s will.
“The management of AS St Etienne would like to wish Steed the best in his choices and his future life.”
It means Malbranque leaves after playing just 26 minutes for the club he joined on a free transfer.
He came on as a second-half substitute in the 0-0 draw against Marseille in the opening day fixture of Ligue 1 but was left out of the games that followed with the only explanations given by the club being that: “he was not in the right frame of mind to play” and that his absences were for “non-football reasons.”
That mystery seems to have led to the cancer claims which were accepted by his new team-mates at St Etienne and found their way into the media.
But while Malbranque’s solicitors cleared up one source of confusion earlier this week with their clarification that the player does not have a son, there is bound to be fresh speculation with Malbranque now leaving the club in such enigmatic fashion.
Sunderland fans who enjoyed his skills will be saddened by the complicated situation the player has found himself in.
The talented midfielder made over 100 appearances for Sunderland and over the course of a decade in English football he made a total of 336 league appearances.