During 1995-96, he moved up through the reserves (scoring 6 goals
in 19 appearances) and made his first-team debut. Unfortunately,
this led to an excessive level of expectancy about his likely goal-scoring
abilities in the Premiership. In his first full season of first-team football (1996-97),
Branch did not really produce the goods.
Part of the problem seemed to be a misplaced policy of protection employed
by manager Joe Royle. Numerous parallels with Alec Ferguson's slow introduction
of Ryan Giggs to top-flight football were quoted as justification that Branch
should not be thrust in at the deep end. Yet, he appeared desperate
to play for Everton, and yearned to be given a full chance to prove
himself. Far too often, Royle withdrew him from the match early, or
put him on as a substitute with Everton trailing and only 10 or 20 minutes
left. Out of 10 starts under Joe Royle, Branch was allowed to complete only
When he became caretaker manager,
Dave Watson had more faith in the young
Michael Branch. After Joe Royle left in March 1997, he gave Branch five
consecutive starts, four of which were completed, yielding two more
Premiership goals. Branch was good on the ground, which suggested that he
could feed well off balls drilled into his path as he ran into the penalty
area. But Everton were notoriously reticent in providing such a supply line,
which could have been a factor in why we never saw the true possibilities of young Michael
The following season, under returning manager Howard Kendall, sadly appeared to be following
the Royle pattern and Branch found it as hard as ever to score. Then,
after only a handful of sub appearances, he picked up a hamstring injury
that kept him out of action for a while. He came back in November
1997 only to pick up a fracture in his leg, and was ruled out for the rest of last
season. Michael Branch's stop-start career was on hold yet again as he
slipped behind Mickael Madar and
John Spencer in the pecking order.
Branch finally shook off his injury worries in October 1998, only
to find that Walter Smith couldn't really use him in the first team squad
after he sat on the subs' bench for a couple of games. But Joe Royle
has always liked Branchy, and persuaded Smith to let him take Branch on
a month's loan at Manchester City. Branch did well enough for Royle
to make a £750k bid for a permanent deal, but Everton turned down
Royle's offer, and asked to make sure that Branch did not get cup-tied.
He returned to Goodison Park in December 1998 but found it hard getting beyond
the subs bench. When he did get on the field, he failed to impress, even
when given a surprise start that stunned Evertonians at the
Anfield derby. Walter Smith
yet again played a bizarre selection wild-card, which, needless to say,
did not pay off. After four seasons of hope and hype, the majority of fans
considered Michael Branch to be only 1st or 2nd Division quality... is that
why Walter Smith was so reluctant to sell him?
In April 1999, Michael Branch reached a new low, after his arrest for being
drunk and disorderly in Liverpool city centre following an alleged dispute.
He was bailed to appear at Liverpool city magistrates on June 1. This was
compounded by Walter Smith's eventual decision to place him on the transfer
list, along with O'Kane, Farrelly,
Grant, and Oster. Yet another promising
player who did not make the grade...
After the summer of 1999, Michael Branch's limited value as a footballer was reflected in a comedy of on-again, off-again transfer moves
to other clubs. First there was the fiasco with Portsmouth, where Branch
initially turned down Alan Ball's offer, then changed his mind only to be
told he was too late. After that, there were "firm" offers from Birmingham
City and Bristol City... but Branch instead went on loan to Wolverhampton
Wanderers, where scored a brace on his debut against
his previous loan club, Manchester City.
Despite not scoring any more goals in his 2-month loan spell, Michael Branch
finally agreed a move to Wolves in January 2000 for an initial fee
of £500,000, rising to £625,000 depending on appearances.
In December 2001, Michael Branch was placed on the transfer list by Wolves
after failing to make an impact under boss Dave Jones. Branch failed
to gain a regular place in the first team and Jones said the arrival of
Kenny Miller and Dean Sturridge further limited opportunities for Branch.
He finally moved on to Reading in March 2002 but made only two sub
appearances before returning. He then went to Hull City on loan for
most of the 2002-03 season, but made only 6 starts (scoring 3 goals).
He finally secured a free transferred to First Division Bradford City to
play alongside his old Everton mate, Danny Cadamarteri, where he scored 6
goals in 30 starts but, at the end of the 2004 season, he was given a free
transfer to Chester City, newly promoted from the Conference to the Third
Division of the Football League. After a spell as captain, he
reportedly walked out on the club in March 2006 following a 'disagreement'
with new City boss Mark Wright, and being stripped of the captaincy.
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