It’s a sad day when a player of such obvious potential is forced to retire at such an early age. After months – some would say years – of battling injury, West Ham striker Dean Ashton has been forced to call it quits after failing to recover from an ankle injury.
As a young striker, Ashton briefly held the hopes of a nation before a challenge from Shaun Wright-Phillips during an England training session ahead the Greece game in August 2006 saw him crippled. He was set for his first start for his country after impressing for the Hammers, with then-England coach Steve McClaren earmarking him for greatness, but Ashton battled back fitness to make an impression in the 2007-08 season.
Then, as injuries often do, he lapsed. Another training ground incident and the weak ankle was exposed in Gianfranco Zola’s first session in charge at the start of the 2008-09 season. He hasn’t been seen since.
Ashton now faces a life without football – aged just 26. The possibility of legal action looms. Firstly, West Ham will be looking to the FA to hand out compensation in the region of £7 million in order to cover his insurance and amounts to the fee that the Hammers paid to Norwich City for his services back in January 2006.
Then, there is the personal claim that Ashton may pursue against Wright-Phillips. Such player-on-player claims are not without precedent, with £909,000 the largest amount of ‘’vicarious liability’’ received by Bradford City’s Gordon Watson, who had a leg broken in two places in a challenge by Huddersfield Town defender Kevin Gray in 1997. Although it hardly seems worth it, given the striker will get £3 million from West Ham for a year’s wages.
The mental anguish that one of the country’s best young prospects faces cannot be understated. It is a crushing blow to be forced to give up anything you love, but to retire from football in your mid-twenties is agonising.
Having been on the radar of some of the biggest clubs in England after showing his potential with Crewe Alexandra and Norwich City, Ashton must now battle harder than he ever has before to maintain a career outside of the game. He will need time to come to terms with his difficult decision, but using his experience of the game and the skills that were so cruelly taken away from him, he can have an impact on the next generation of superstars.
Injury occasionally robs us of players before they have shown us their best - Steve Coppell and Marco Van Basten to name but two in recent memory – but both have proved that there is life after the game. Ashton will forever be haunted by the ‘what could have been’ question, but hopefully he can bounce back and make a name for himself off the pitch.
Carlos Tevez recently stated that he was considering early retirement because of the demands of modern day football. Perhaps looking at a tragic case like Ashton’s will help him reconsider.