It was a sentiment expressed by many, albeit in hushed tones. When Houllier finally settled into Villa Park just what would he make of John Carew? After all, this was a player he had offloaded to Villa when in charge at Lyon. Add to the mix Carew’s nomadic career path (Norway, Spain, Italy, Turkey, France and England have all been home in the space of a decade), his reported penchant for a certain exotic entertainment, and his quite astonishing injury record and the writing appeared to be on the wall. The all-too-public war of words between the two in the last week seems to be the final nail in Carew’s, rather large, coffin.
When Houllier arrived at Villa Park he was quick to reassure Carew that he was happy to leave the past behind them. Carew too made all the right noises, telling The People ‘I do not have problems with the coach. What is done is done and I accept it. My exit from Lyon is in the past’. How, then, have relations deteriorated to such an extent that over the weekend Carew slammed Houllier as ‘disrespectful’, with the Frenchman retaliating with claims that his striker is ‘stupid’?
If Carew’s widely speculated January departure does transpire, it would cap a dramatic fall from grace for the 31 year old. A hugely popular figure with the fans, Carew has been the team’s top scorer in each of his three full seasons with the club. Villa’s current struggle for goals, (only Wigan and West Ham have hit the back of the net fewer times in the Premier League this season) would make signing a replacement absolutely vital, particularly as fellow strikers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey remain injured.
An official club spokesman issued a statement last night advising that Carew and Houllier had met during the day for talks to clear the air. The matter, the statement assured us, was now considered to be ‘resolved’. But with Carew’s contract up at the end of the season, and funds from the sale of James Milner expected to be made available to Houllier, Carew’s future seems far from certain. Neither man, however, has come out of the squabble well. There is a feeling amongst some that in Carew’s comments there is an element of arrogance. As for Houllier, he can not afford to be seen as harming dressing room spirit. The key criticism many Villa fans had of O’Neill was that his acerbic relationships with many of the squad severely damaged the progress of the club. Houllier simply can not risk more player unrest.