STEED Malbranque wants to be dealt into the Sunderland striker mix next season, and secure a long-term future at the Stadium of Light in the process.
The French forward, one of the best-paid players at the club, is out of contract at the end of the season and has still not heard anything from the Black Cats about a potential extension offer.
That has jacked up speculation about his future and he has been linked with a steady stream of Sunderland’s Premier League rivals during the summer, including Fulham and QPR.
But in a rare interview from the Wearsiders’ Barsinghausen training base, Malbranque said he had no intention of leaving the club before the summer transfer window closes.
He also revealed his intention to battle it out with Ji Dong-Won, Connor Wickham, Asamoah Gyan and Stéphane Sessegnon for a forward role.
“I am very happy at Sunderland – I do not want to leave this club,” he told The Journal. “I want to stay and fight for my place, I have no interest in leaving and I would like to stay longer if possible.
“The club has moved forward in every year that I have been here and we have done it again. With the new players that we have at the club we can target European football next year.
“The club keeps progressing every year and I like that – I want to be part of it and I want to be part of Sunderland’s future. I want to be part of the squad, I have never asked to leave and I won’t.”
Malbranque has looked sharp during Sunderland’s tough training programme in Germany and has featured in all three pre-season games so far.
Used mainly off the shoulder of a bigger striker like Ji or Wickham, he is one of the most naturally gifted players at Bruce’s disposal.
But a woeful scoring record – he has netted just once in 102 League appearances for Sunderland – needs to be addressed if he is to make a striker’s place his own.
Malbranque hopes that is possible, although the 31-year-old is willing to play anywhere if it secures him a place in Bruce’s plans.
“My preferred position is to play in behind the one striker, or as part of two strikers,” he said. “Of course I will play on the left or the right of midfield too.
“I will play anywhere going forward, but it is up to the manager to make the decision on whether I will start in games or not.
“I hope to play a run of games and, no matter where I play, I will give my best for the team. I will give the most I can, I want to start scoring goals too.”
Sunderland have one game remaining of their German tour, taking on Borussia Mönchengladbach tomorrow and Bruce has toned down the intensive training schedule to make sure that his squad stay healthy.
Titus Bramble and Michael Turner are touch and go with regards to the weekend match, while Wes Brown, Keiren Westwood and Gyan will not play until Wednesday’s trip to Kilmarnock.
The standard of opposition has proved taxing for the Black Cats, who are yet to win out here. But Malbranque, like his manager, can see other benefits to being together for a prolonged period of time.
“I think it is too early to talk too much about how successful pre-season has been, but we have worked hard to be ready for the first game,” he said.
“It is a good thing to do to come out to Germany. To have everyone together for a week – especially for the new players – is a good thing.”