The Carew Situation – Part I [Updated with GH video following team meeting]

Written by Dan on November 8, 2010

I’ve been mulling over writing a post exploring how player registrations, contracts and amortization of transfer fees work for a little while and planned on using John Carew as an example since there seemed to be a growing opinion that he should simply be sold in January. As if it’s really that simple.

That was before the spat that emerged via the media this weekend between player and manager, something that’s impossible to ignore, so I’ll save what I had in mind for Part II, although events may change the landscape completely before I get chance. We’ll see.

So, to the recent back and forth in the media this weekend then. I’ll warn you now, this post will be heavy on full quotes (so far as I know), and not just the odd sentence cherry-picked out of context.

Firstly, let’s just go back in time briefly to early December of 2009. It was about 11 months ago that the last rumour of Carew’s imminent departure surfaced in the lead up to the January transfer window with the Daily Mirror claiming that Carew was “discussing terms with Fenerbahce“.

I did a little digging and found the source to be nothing more than a Turkish website expressing an opinion; Carew would be good at Fenerbahce. Maybe he would, but that’s all there was to it; an opinion. That’s enough for the British tabloids though and it snowballed in the usual and predictable fashion.

That in turn leads to discussion on the blogs and forums.  It’s all such a tedious waste of time, it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Eventually Carew’s agent, Per Flod, surfaced in the Norwegian media to offer a denial.  Not everything he said passed through the British media filter, but it was enough to put the story to bed for most rationale people.  What Flod said then is relevant to where we are today though, here it is in full:-

Per Flod – December 2009
Something happens in the summer of 2010. Whether an extension of the contract or a transition. John can obviously play the final year of the contract, but I do not anticipate that Villa are interested in it.

It’s hardly the time for it now unless there’s something special. I talked to John about this no later than yesterday, and we look well to summer. It has been on the cards ever since he wrote a new contract last summer, that Martin O’Neill and I would sit down in the summer of 2010 to talk about John’s future.

We’ll probably never know for sure what exactly happened this past summer, but we do know that John Carew did not get a new contract – I doubt discussions were even entered into – and, since he remains at the club, he has drifted into the last 12 months of his contract whether Villa were interested or not.

Rather than repeat myself, here was my own comment on it last December:-

Aston Villa Central
And that’s really how things work. Carew is contracted with Aston Villa until the summer of 2011, by which time he’ll be heading toward his 32nd birthday. It makes perfect sense for the manager and player/agent to sit down with a year to go. MON will have the option of offering Carew an extension beyond 2011 or, if he feels that the player might be getting a bit long in the tooth by that point, he has a couple of other options. If MON wants to recoup some money for Carew he will obviously need to offload him next summer [2010], or he could simply let Carew run his contract down and leave as a free agent for a bumper payday to finish his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the latter, we’ve certainly seen it before with Ollie and it allows everyone to part company on the best of terms, with warm memories.

The closing sentence looks far from prophetic now.

So that’s really where we were at until last week and it was going to serve as the crux of the post exploring contracts and registrations. In simple terms; Carew would have little or no value in January 2011 and once into his last six months is free to sign a pre-contract with another club, but as Houllier himself recently said; “you think they wait until January? [to talk to other clubs]“. Nope.

Heskey Injured

It was reported on November 4th that Emile Heskey had injured his knee in training and would be out for around four weeks, leaving just John Carew and Nathan Delfouneso as the only recognised first team strikers at the club available.

Given Carew’s situation, it’s perfectly natural that Houllier would be asked in the next press conference whether this would be an opportunity for John Carew to prove himself. What else would he say but yes? His answer may have appeared elsewhere in the media, but it was so innocuous it was published on the Aston Villa official website:-

Gerard Houllier
John is a centre-forward. What you expect from a centre-forward is goals. He can do that. On his day he can be absolutely awesome – practically impossible to stop. We want the top John Carew that I know.

It is a big opportunity for John to play a run of games. In training he’s showing that he’s got the appetite and the desire to do well. John, when he wants to, can be absolutely fantastic. I think a run of matches could help.

John is at the end of his contract. It is an opportunity to express what he wants – whether he wants to stay at the club or whether he wants to go somewhere else. But in both cases I would say he has got to be at his best to be in the shop window.

From what I’ve seen in training he is enjoying his football and looks extremely good. There’s no talk about a contract yet. I want to see people. We’ll see about that after Christmas.

I’d love to know what exactly what Carew found so offensive or “provocative” about that. Personally, the only thing I find offensive is the fact it needs saying at all since it’s so obvious anyone with the brain function to tie their own shoe laces should understand it to be the situation.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where this sort of thing has to be spoon fed to the masses by the media. This isn’t Houllier “slagging players off in the media” as I’ve seen one or two fans opining though, he’s answering a simple question with a simple answer. As I say, it’s innocuous stuff, or it should be.

As I pointed out at the time, there was a slight faux pas with the publication of this story on the OS since the Birmingham Mail later claimed, when breaking the news of Carew’s injury, that it had occurred in training the previous day.

You might wish to jump to the conclusion that Carew is not really injured then, but I never assume a conspiracy when incompetence provides a perfectly acceptable explanation. The article was probably written and scheduled to be published the previous day and no one told the club journalists that things had changed.

Or Carew isn’t really injured. You know, either way.

In any case, whether prompted by the reported injury or Houllier’s “challenge”, Carew responded via the Norwegian media – I suspect there’s a journalist or two there with his mobile number on speed dial. Again, here’s everything he had to say, it’s been translated to English by Google and was published as a question and answer session, so that’s how I’m replicating it:-

John Carew
What do you think about it he goes out and says about you now?

It’s provocative. I do not know if Gerard Houllier is poorly prepared for Aston Villa when he takes over the club? Maybe he is. For here is much changed in recent years, especially since Ashley Young and I got to the club. We and several players who have come later are very involved in the success of Aston Villa have had. We have taken three straight sixth place and been in a final. Therefore, I think Houllier insult both me and the fans when he goes out like that.

How do you react?

I do not know, I’m certainly surprised. The manager said the player group that we should take all things internally, not in the media. So he did not follow up their own rules. It annoys me.

Has he not taken it up with you?

No. And he will challenge me, he will challenge me personally. Not through the media. If he thinks I should fight for a new contract with the club, he will take it up with me. I do not think the play group think anything about this. Not the fans either. It is not very popular, to put it that way.

Does he have problems with you, do you think?

I do not know. Does he have problems with me, so he gets to talk to me about it.

Do you have something to prove do you think?

Prove? Look at the past few years, I have performed very well throughout. There’s a reason why the fans singing my name under the constant fighting. Houllier might see some more videos from previous seasons, look at what we have done. I have been important and involved, and has scored many goals. Who has the most to prove in Aston Villa, it remains to be seen. Gerard Houllier has at least reasonably big shoes to fill. He has more to prove than many others in the club.

It requires a mutual respect. And when I become puzzled and offended by such initiatives from him. He should perhaps have been here a little longer before he starts to demand anything. It is disturbing both for the team and players.

In fairness to John, giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s entirely possible that the Norwegian journalist contacted him regarding the injury since Norway are playing Ireland in an international friendly on the 17th and just put his/her own version of what Houllier said and got a response from John without him knowing himself exactly what was said.

That’s pure conjecture on my part, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility and, if that is the case, it would certainly suggest that Carew has a thing or two to learn about the media. When to say “no comment” and check the facts first would be a good place to start.

However, regardless of how it came about, Carew’s response was published on Saturday morning, prior to the Fulham game, so would naturally be brought up by journalists in the post-match press conference. Here, perhaps, Houllier himself might have been wiser to say “no comment”, but he again gave a fairly direct and honest response:-

Gerard Houllier
I was told about his comments, I think he is stupid. How can he say that? I didn’t lack respect to him or anybody.

Somebody asked me if it was a good chance for him and I said yes. What do you want me to say? No? I think John is living in the past at the moment.

I shall be speaking to him, of course.

The emphasis is mine, it’s this whole sorry affair in a nutshell. Houllier was asked if this was an opportunity for Carew and it is, so he said it was.  I know Martin O’Neill would have talked at length for 20 minutes and actually said precisely nothing, but I don’t believe that’s the benchmark for how these things should be handled.

Fortunately the two will have had chance to speak face to face today before Carew could respond in The Sun by calling Houllier a “meanie” and a “poo head”.

Curtains?

So is this the end of the road for John Carew at Aston Villa? Not necessarily, but it was highly unlikely that he would have been getting a new contract at the end of the season before this and now it’s certainly no more likely. But that doesn’t automatically mean he’ll be off in January.

Perhaps the two men will talk today and agree that Houllier said nothing that should have caused offense and Carew’s response, therefore, was a bit “stupid”. Maybe they can also agree that if Carew wants to find gainful employment as a professional footballer, be it at Aston Villa or some other club, he’ll need to demonstrate that he’s going to be worth the year or two contract he’ll no doubt want with an annual salary in excess of £1m. That’s £20k/week, he may want a good deal more.

Again, why that would need discussion I don’t really know, it should be painfully obvious. I suspect, if he was aware what he was responding to in the Norwegian media, all he was doing was sending out a ‘come and get me’ signal far and wide.

Bigger than me and you, but not Aston Villa

I’m disappointed that Carew has suggested that he holds more rank at Aston Villa than Gerard Houllier since he’s played a big part in our success over the last few seasons and Houllier has just walked in the door. I won’t deny that he has indeed contributed to our performance, but he’s been paid very well for that.

Mellberg is the perfect example of a player who gave everything he had during his time at Villa and was rewarded in the end with the ability to leave on a Bosman, getting himself a big pay deal in lieu of any transfer fees. What he did at West Ham in his final game was exceptional and showed true class.

Carew, on the other hand, has invoked his cult status with the fans to reveal a ridiculous ego and entitlement attitude, if anything in this sorry saga is offensive, it’s that. I have a feeling he may have misjudged the fans somewhat and shouldn’t expect his name to be sung with such volume in the future.

We’ll have to see what happens in January, but if there aren’t any clubs interested in a highly paid, aging, injury-prone striker with an apparent attitude problem, don’t be surprised if he’s still a Villa player in February. If he does go, it will more than likely be on a free transfer since his valuation on the balance sheet – by my reckoning – isn’t likely to be much more than a half million pounds.

As Houllier said, it’s now down to what Carew wants to do.  Act like a grown up and do the job he’s paid ridiculously well for, or sulk like a big baby.

UPDATE: After Houllier and Carew met on Monday the club issued a simple statement: “the matter has been dealt with internally and is now resolved“. A recognition, at least, that a lid must be put on it.

Stuart James at The Guardian thinks Carew will still be off in January and if there’s a club out there that will take him, I suspect he might well be right. If that proves to be the case, Carew elected to go the big baby route. What a shame.

UPDATE 2

Video from today’s press conference below. Houllier seemed to suggest that Carew had been given the wrong end of the stick by the Norwegian media and was indeed reacting to something he hadn’t really said, but also firmly put a lid on the incident. Nothing more to discuss here.