After showing early potential, unreasonable expectation and an unlikely transfer fee took their toll. James Eastham looks back
Recollecting the transfers that took place across Europe during the 2001 close season, you can safely say there was no credit crunch in the world of football eight summers ago.
Zinedine Zidane’s world record breaking £48 million move from Juventus to Real Madrid topped a dizzying list of deals. Players who moved for £20m or more included Pavel Nedved, Rui Costa, Gaizka Mendieta and the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon. Manchester United broke the British transfer record by paying Lazio £28.1m for Juan Sebastian Veron, but an equal act of folly – or a more costly one, considering the relative riches of the two clubs – was Fulham’s £11.5m purchase of Steve Marlet from Lyon.
The club’s record buy performed erratically throughout his spell at Craven Cottage, scored 11 goals in 55 league appearances and his departure, when it eventually came, suited everybody. Fulham chairman Mohamed Fayed was glad to get rid of him, but would like to have done so more cheaply. Fayed questioned manager Jean Tigana’s valuation of the player and withheld a portion of the transfer fee owing to Lyon because he opposed the role a couple of agents had played in the deal – but the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne eventually ruled that Fulham had to pay the full balance. Tigana had briefly worked as Marlet’s agent before becoming Fulham manager, but was cleared of any misconduct.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, Marlet was undoubtedly overpriced, because he’d done little to warrant such a burdensome price tag. During four seasons at Auxerre, he’d earned a reputation as a quick, effective right-winger, and stepped up a level by joining Lyon in 2000. His single season there was the most successful in his career: he scored five goals in the Champions League, reached double figures in the league, got his first international cap and won the French League Cup alongside future Fulham team-mate Steed Malbranque.
Here was an improving player, then, but hardly one worth £11.5m – and that inflated fee soon became apparent when he began his new life in England. After a slow start, Marlet looked out of his depth regardless of whether he played alongside Barry Hayles, Louis Saha or Luis Boa Morte and his days were numbered following Tigana’s sacking. It didn’t help his case that Fulham never really decided whether he was a striker or winger, or that the sort of kudos once reserved exclusively for kids from Rio and São Paulo was being attached to anybody with a French passport around that time as a result of France’s double World Cup and European Championship triumph.
After two difficult seasons Marlet went on loan to Marseille, where he was overshadowed by the dramatic emergence of Didier Drogba. His France career fizzled out following Euro 2004, where his status as an unused substitute left him with a tally of six goals from 23 international appearances and the dubious honour of being one of the few players to have twice won the Confederations Cup, in 2001 and 2003.
Fulham finally got him off their books in 2005 when he moved to Wolfsburg on a free transfer, but in his single season in the Bundesliga he scored just once in 21 appearances. Marlet returned to France, joining newly promoted Lorient, but a year spent warming their bench did little to reawaken his career. In May 2007, he was released for the third time in two years – and has been without a club ever since. Trials at Ipswich Town, Chicago Fire and Ligue 2 side Reims came to nothing. He trained at Red Star, the Parisian club where he started his career in the French second division 17 years ago, but nobody came calling.
To a degree, Marlet might feel that bad timing has blighted his career. The most salient example was Tigana’s dismissal at Fulham, but it was also his fate to join Auxerre immediately after they won their only league title and to leave Lyon just before their seven-year run as French champions began. In hindsight, he may wish he’d stayed on at Lyon before picking a more suitable destination abroad. However he looks back, his time as a professional player is surely over. In March, nearly two years after his last appearance, Marlet announced plans to move into coaching. A man with his CV would surely have something to offer – if only to warn others of the risks of being lumbered with a price tag you neither asked for nor deserved.
From WSC 270 August 2009