Fulham press Malbranque for new deal

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The Independent Online

Chris Coleman is "desperate" for Steed Malbranque to sign a new contract as Fulham seek to build a squad that will establish them as regulars in the top half of the Premiership.

The club's chairman, Mohamed al-Fayed, has given Coleman his biggest transfer kitty since he became manager in 2003 and behind-the-scenes work has already begun on strengthening for next season.

But the most crucial task over the coming weeks is to tie Malbranque to a new long-term deal. The French midfielder's classy performance against Wigan Athletic on Monday underlined his immense value.

The captain Luis Boa Morte and midfielder Pape Bouba Diop recently committed their long-term futures to the club and Malbranque, 26, is the only one of Fulham's leading trio yet to agree fresh terms.

"Steed's people are coming in to talk to us," Coleman explained. "We're desperate to keep him. He's got a year left and we're desperate to get him on a longer contract.

"I think we can do things at Fulham, especially with the transfer funds being made available. If we can hang on to our best players and keep adding, we can become a top 10 club."

The on-loan Wayne Bridge is another member of Fulham's squad Coleman would love to keep, but Chelsea will have the final say in that, with Tottenham linked with a summer move for the 25-year-old.

Bridge has failed to impress during recent games and he struggled again on Monday, but England's lack of competition at left-back suggests his chances of going to the World Cup are not under threat.

He returned from a double ankle fracture last October and Coleman revealed that a couple of recent minor injuries have forced him to play through the pain barrier.

"Wayne has been feeling his hamstring and he had a knock on his ankle early doors against Wigan, but he's getting on with it," the Fulham manager said.

"He's desperate to go to the World Cup and no doubt he has the quality to get into England's squad. He hasn't been at his best for the last few games but we've wanted him to play because he's quality.

"He's been playing through a bit of pain and full credit to him for that - he's not just at Fulham to see out the season.

"It's not easy for him because he's been out for a long time and it takes a dozen games before you start to get that flow again."

"I'd love to keep Wayne at Fulham permanently. I said when I took him on loan that unless Jose Mourinho gave me the nod I wouldn't put pressure on him because I think that would be disrespectful.

"He's fitted in well, but the final decision will be made by Chelsea."

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