The imperious Norwegian forward John Carew spearheaded the attacking during a fruitful era under Martin O’Neil and was for a time one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League.
Carew arrived at Villa Park in January 2007, after collecting a wealth of experience at clubs across Europe. He’d represented clubs in his native Norway, Spain, Italy, Turkey and France before arriving in England and his clinical nature immediately struck a chord with supporters.
He launched his playing career with Valerenga, who were competing in the Norwegian second division during his debut season. Carew unveiled his talent to supporters as a young teenager by propelling them to promotion with a staggering 10 goals in 14 appearances.
Valerenga were only able to retain his services for a further two seasons in the Norwegian top-flight until the far more prestigious Rosenborg snatched their goalscoring sensation from their clutches. Carew continued to enhance his reputation in the spotlight and amassed 24 goals in 31 appearances during his two seasons with Troillongan, but an irresistible opportunity lied ahead of him in Spain.
His career was beginning to take shape. He won three major honours in his native homeland, including the Tippeligaen title during his debut season with Rosenborg. Carew was also the first-choice striker of the Norwegian National Team by 20 years of age and he headed to Valencia with the ambition of taking his talent to the next level.
Valencia: A Spell of Mixed Emotions
Carew established himself as a favourite amongst supporters during his debut season at Valencia. He bagged eleven goals in the Spanish La Liga and a further three goals on route to the 2001 UEFA Champions League final.
The most memorable goal of that season was undoubtedly his winning header against Arsenal in the quarter-final, which booked Valencia’s place in the semi-final. Valencia met German titans Bayern Munich in the final at the iconic San Siro in Milan, but failed to return to Spain with the famous trophy.
Bayern Munich were attempting to redeem themselves after a demoralizing defeat against Manchester United in the Champions League final in 1999. The Bavarians took a 1-0 lead into stoppage time but trailed 2-1 when the final whistle was blown moments later at the Camp Nou.
Gaizka Mendieta broke the deadlock for the Spaniards from the penalty spot with just three minutes on the clock, but Bayern Munich legend Stefan Effenberg equalized from twelve yards shortly after the break.
It was an exhausting 120 minutes of action which had to be decided by penalty kicks. John Carew converted his spot-kick to retain Valencia’s lead, but Mauricio Pellegrino would subsequently fail to convert the decisive penalty and ultimately hand victory to the Germans.
Rafa Benitez replaced the outgoing Hector Cuper ahead of the 2001/02 season and this marked the beginning of a difficult season for the Norwegian. He converted just once during the entire campaign and was unable to regain a place in the starting line-up. Valencia clinched the Spanish La Liga title, but it was a forgettable season for Carew from an individual perspective.
His fortunes would improve during the following campaign, but he was still unable to quench Valencia’s thirst for a highly productive centre-forward. After a rather underwhelming loan spell with AS Roma in Italy, Carew attempted to recover his career in the Turkish Super Liga at Besiktas.
It proved a career-saving decision to relocate to Turkey. Carew finished his solitary season at Besiktas with 14 goals in 28 appearances, although The Black Eagles failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
Carew used Besiktas as a stepping stone to greater things and quickly earned another high-profile move to reigning French Ligue 1 champions Olympique Lyonnais. He found it difficult to oust Brazilian talisman Fred from the line-up, but showcased his goalscoring capabilities in the UEFA Champions League.
One goal in a famous victory over European giants Real Madrid was quickly followed by a brace against Olympiacos. But his most memorable goal was his equalizer in the reverse fixture against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Real Madrid led by a slim one-goal margin and were heading towards a victory which would’ve kept their hopes of clinching top-spot in the group alive. On 72 minutes, Carew received the ball with his back to goal and guided an audacious dribbling back heal beyond the hapless of corpses of Roberto Carlos and Iker Casillas.
It was a moment which left the supporters in complete disbelief but the emergence of the young talented French forward Karim Benzema further reduced his playing opportunities during the 2006/07 season. Carew featured just nine times in the French Ligue 1, finding the net only once, and after failing a medical at Fulham and having a bid rejected from West Bromwich Albion; he found himself at Villa Park!
Aston Villa: A New Place to Call Home
Carew joined Aston Villa on a three-and-a-half year deal in exchange for Milan Baros. The former Czech Republic international had originally revived his career at Aston Villa, scoring 12 goals in 42 appearances during the 2005/06 season, but lost his way in the opening stages of the 2006/07 season.
Juan Pablo Angel and Gabriel Agbonlahor spearheaded the attack for the majority of Carew’s opening six months in England, but he was still able to mark his first campaign at Aston Villa with three goals in 12 appearances.
Colombian forward Angel joined Major League Soccer outfit New York Red Bulls in 2007 and this marked the beginning of a sensational partnership between Carew and Agbonlahor. The pair scored a combined total of 24 goals in all competitions with Carew finishing as the club’s top goalscorer with 13 goals.
It was a match made in heaven. Carew offered his physical prowess and instinctive positioning to find the net on a frequent basis and Gabriel Agbonlahor utilized his pace to receive knock-ons from his Norwegian striking partner.
Aston Villa qualified for the UEFA Cup with a respectable sixth-place finish in the Premier League and the English and Norwegian duo further enhanced their growing reputation with another mammoth return during the 2008/09 season.
It was another sensational season under the tutelage of Irish manager Martin O’Neil and The Villains secured yet another sixth-place finish. Carew converted on 15 occasions and Agbonlahor found the net 13 times, as the pair brought back the glory days during a fantastic period.
The Villains lost their final two group fixtures in the UEFA Cup, but it was Carew’s winning goal against Slavia Prague during their second match that ultimately secured them a place in the knockout phase. Carew continued to supply goals in Europe with an equalizer against CSKA Moscow in the first leg of the Round of 32, but Aston Villa subsequently succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Russia and suffered elimination from the competition.
Emile Heskey and Nathan Delfouneso were both vying for a place in the starting line-up during the 2009/10 season, but John Carew finished with his greatest goal tally at the end of the season. He scored 17 goals in 42 appearances in total, but this marked the beginning of the end for the Norwegian giant.
Carew scored ten goals in the Premier League, but more famously scored a brace against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup 5th Round replay and a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory over Reading in the quarter-final. Aston Villa also reached the League Cup final, but suffered defeat against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.
The Steep Decline