x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Viking warrior of Villa Park

John Carew, the giant striker, has spent the past four years at Aston Villa, longer than any of his previous six clubs.

John Carew, the Aston Villa striker, is a favourite with the fans but remains a peripheral figure under Gerard Houllier, the Villa manager, despite the forward line being decimated by injuries.
John Carew, the Aston Villa striker, is a favourite with the fans but remains a peripheral figure under Gerard Houllier, the Villa manager, despite the forward line being decimated by injuries.

Few things cause a panic in Norway like an injury to the country's best player, John Carew.

Not since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the predatory former Manchester United striker, was in his prime has a Norwegian forward been so celebrated. Yet while Solskjaer was a quiet family man who spent 14 years at United before signing a contract to move back to his homeland to take up the managerial reins at Molde last week, Carew has played for seven different clubs in six European countries.

There are few other comparisons with Solskjaer, for while the 31-year-old from the tough north Oslo suburb of Lorenskog now seems to be maturing, he has led a colourful life which saw him occupy the front and back pages of the Norwegian press.

"He once held a birthday party and sent invites to a lot of celebrities he didn't know," recalls journalist Lars Morton Olsen. "He also sent them to members of our royal family, which amused many Norwegians."

The son of a Gambian father and Norwegian mother, Carew joined his neighbourhood club Lorenskog in the third division as a 15-year-old.

"He broke into the first team and there was a real buzz about him," recalls Olsen of the 6ft 5in forward who represented his country at every age group from Under 15s upwards.

The buzz was justified when Carew moved to Oslo's biggest side, first division Valerenga, and scored 19 goals in 1998/99. He won the first of 85 Norway caps that season - and earned a move to a bigger club, this time Rosenborg, Norway's biggest team and their only Champions League regulars. Once again, Carew was a success at his new club, scoring 18 goals in 18 in Trondheim.

Carew again proved to be too big a fish in the pond of Norwegian football and the familiar pattern continued as bigger clubs started to circle. When Champions League finalists Valencia made an €8.5 million (Dh42.06m) bid, the 21-year-old headed to Spain. Carew settled immediately, scoring vital goals as Valencia reached a second successive Champions League final in 2001. A header against Arsenal in the quarter-finals was the difference between the two teams and he successfully converted his penalty in a shoot-out in the Milan final which Los Che lost to Bayern Munich.

Arsenal would come to curse the giant Norwegian, his two goals in the 2002/03 Champions League again eliminating the north Londoners.

By then, Carew had been a Primera Liga winner with Valencia in 2002. Coach Rafa Benitez used him to spearhead a great side including Pablo Aimar and Kily Gonzalez, though Carew started to feature more infrequently. The media said that Benitez was not an admirer of Carew's style nor stature.

Valencia were Spanish champions in 2004, but a loan move to Roma meant Carew didn't feature. Benitez did not consider his strike rate of one-in-four in Spain enough to be considered prolific and with Roma unwilling to make the loan deal permanent, Carew was sold to Turkish giants Besiktas in 2004.

Thirteen goals in 24 league games in Turkey was enough to resurrect Carew's goalscoring status - and earn a €7.6m move to French champions Lyon, where he spent two injury-hit seasons, scoring 10 times in 35 matches.

Carew moved again in 2007, this time to Aston Villa in an exchange deal with Lyon for Milan Baros. He would stay longer at Villa than any other club in his career.

"We thought his style would be suited to English football," said Olsen. It was.

"He became a bit of a cult hero, mainly because everyone likes a big No 9 and on his day he's as good as anyone," said Dave Woodhall, editor of the Villa fanzine Heroes and Villains.

"But if he was more consistent he wouldn't have played for us. His big problem is that he often doesn't seem to fancy it - to use a boxing term - for a player of his size he's injured a lot and never seems fit. He's got the stature of a Viking warrior and the constitution of a librarian."

The Holte End may have sung (to the tune of Que Sera, Sera) "John Carew, Carew, he's bigger than me and you, he's gonna score one or two, John Carew, Carew", but Gerard Houllier, the new Villa manager, himself once of Lyon, does not appear to figure the Norwegian in his plans. Even though his squad has been decimated by injury, Carew remains a peripheral figure under the French coach.

Carew could move again in the January transfer window, with several big clubs linked. On his day, he will do a job for the best of them.

sports@thenational.ae