Malbranque - I'll miss England

New St Etienne signing is back home after English adventure

Malbranque: Felt he had to take up Premier League opportunity

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Steed Malbranque has admitted he never intended to stay so long in England after returning to France with St Etienne.

The 31-year-old has gone back to France to sign a two-year contract with St Etienne having been lured to Fulham by compatriot Jean Tigana in 2001.

Malbranque was merely looking for regular football having become frustrated with his lack of first-team opportunities at Lyon yet he ended up staying in the UK for 10 years, also playing for Tottenham and Sunderland while racking up 335 Premier League appearances.

"England was not a priority to me, but rather an opportunity," he told L'Equipe.

"I was a 21-year-old and what had been proposed at Lyon didn't become concrete.

"It was difficult for me to be on the bench so when I had the opportunity to join Jean Tigana and Christian Damiano at Fulham, I left.

"People said that being an exile cost me a place in the French team, but you can't be sure."

He continued: "I have loved London. If I didn't move to London when I arrived in England, I don't think I would have stayed so long.

"I didn't feel like a stranger because there are a lot of Frenchmen in Kensington or Chelsea.

Both cultures

"I made a mix of the two cultures. I keep a French seriousness with regards to nutrition and food but I added a British mentality that nothing is taboo - everyone says what he believes and wears what he wants.

"At Lyon, I had been abused in the street. In England, no-one ever jumped at me, there is respect. That way of life suits me.

"I will miss that English peacefulness. Even though I had contacts in Spain three years ago, I have never been attracted to go somewhere else."

Malbranque headed north to join Sunderland in 2008 and after losing some enthusiasm for the game, he could now be set for a new lease of life with St Etienne.

Coach Christophe Galtier sold the club to him and Malbranque is looking forward to the prospect of playing in the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium, also known as 'the cauldron'.

No fun

"At Sunderland, I lost fun on the pitch," he said. "Roy Keane, who signed me, wanted to get inspired by his years at Manchester United.

"Steve Bruce came back to an English game. Also, from the North, it was not as easy to go to France so for the very first time I told my agent I wanted to go back.

"St Etienne's sport project and my first conversation with the coach were the main reasons.

"Then there was the prospect of playing in Le Chaudron, which is like an English stadium."